Monday, November 20, 2006

How Writers Create Their Fiction: Chapter One

Don't let that novel go up in flames!
November isn't just the month of hanging chads and overstuffed turkeys. It's National Novel Writing Month. For the eighth year in a row, the web sponsors of this occasion are inviting aspiring fictioneers to compose a 50,000 word novel (that's 175 pages) in 30 days. Finish the word count, and you're declared a winner.

Writing a novel is a lot like riding a bike. A bike with no brakes and no gears. You've got one flat tire. Maybe two. If you're on a tricycle, you definitely have three flat tires. You're pedaling up a hill — a steep, pothole-filled mountain. And the weather? Let's just say it's a dark and stormy night.

To help you along, we've asked fiction writers from all genres for the essence of noveling: how they write, how they overcome writer's block and their best written sentence. Each weekday this month, we'll publish another novelist’s thoughts. Check back for novelists as varied as Neal Pollack, Rita Mae Brown and Joyce Carol Oates.

[MELODY JOY KRAMER and MARC SILVER / National Public Radio]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Writer's Clock

Until they pricked her with the anesthesia, Rise Peters planned to be writing.

The Bowie resident -- facing inflammatory breast cancer -- entered surgery Wednesday to have a growth removed from her liver. She is also approaching the halfway point of her novel, a mystery titled "Raised by Wolves." She must finish it by Nov. 30, averaging 1,667 words a day, cancer or no cancer.

"If you can't come up with a better excuse than me, forget it," Peters, 45, told attendees at the Oct. 29 kickoff party for the D.C. contingent of National Novel Writing Month. "We're all going to win this year."

Winning means simply writing 50,000 words (or 175 pages) in 30 days. Today participants should be hitting 20,000. If they were running a marathon, they'd be nearly halfway through mile 10.

"They," of course, are the WriMos, those reckless and ambitious souls who signed up for the undertaking, nicknamed NaNoWriMo, which started in 1999 with 21 participants and last year boasted 59,000. By the end of the month, an estimated 93,000 will have registered, a little over half of whom are from the United States.

Now, some fuzzy math: If this growth rate is constant and participation is cumulative, then every American will be writing a novel in November 2027. We'll be a country made entirely of boozing, tortured authors.

"Mr. Secretary, North Korea finally has a viable nuclear warhead."

"Hold on, I'm almost done with this sex scene."

Time and Punishment

The output needn't be as textured as Faulkner or as impeccable as Nabokov. It can be drivel. Swill. Dreck. Dross.

Chris Baty, program director for NaNo, has one piece of advice for the 2,500 or so WriMos in the District, Maryland and Virginia: "Get out of the 20,000s as fast as you can. If you can do it in three days, great. The 20s are like a swamp of the soul. Charge through them. The 30s start to feel wonderful."

But who has time for this? There are 40-hour workweeks, romantic relationships, episodes of "Deal or No Deal," transient and chronic illnesses and life's little duties and distractions.

Dan Fowlkes, 28, of Stafford has three children younger than 5, and his wife is pregnant with a fourth. So this year he's writing during the commute on Interstate 95 to his Defense Department job by using voice-recognition software.

"I'm dictating 2,000 words a morning," Fowlkes says. "Although, in the evening, I'll have to go over those 2,000 words and look for the places where the computer misheard me."

For those without a dead commute hour to devote, sacrificing that last ounce of free time can often open up a whole new perspective on your day-to-day routine.

"A lot of people discover the month they're writing their novel that they have more time for everything else in their life than they did

before," Baty says. "Once you decide to really prioritize something, whether that's novel writing or learning a foreign language, you tend to cut out the superfluous bits."

Even though making outlines and slaving over structure can be helpful, WriMos agree that an amateur novelist's best bet is to write fast and free, whether or not it's during November.

"Some sentences are really good, some are stinkers," says Peters, who is NaNo's municipal liaison for the District and does her fair share of 9-to-5 writing as a lawyer. "But none of them have that overworked, labored characteristic you get when you're second-guessing yourself."

[Dan Zak / Washington Post]

Friday, November 3, 2006

Who let the YAWP out?

Want to write a novel? Don't think you're talented enough? Still finding your muse? Prevaricating again on why it hasn't happened yet?

Stop. Drop everything. And sign up for National Novel Writing Month.

November is the month for your closet Great American novelist to break free and sound out a barbaric YAWP. If you don't know what that is, you need to check out online and Walt Whitman from the local library --- or "Dead Poet's Society" at the nearest video store, for the Cliff's Notes and Hollywood version.

NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999 by an Oakland freelance writer. The goal is simple: write a 50,000-word (175 pages) novel in 30 days … and voila, you're a novelist.

That's it.

Just ask Diann Tongco, Temecula resident and a second-year participant of noveling madness. Her NaNo novel last year wound up being 62,000 words -- and it all started with one character.

"I started role-playing this character," Tongco explained, "and she was just too awesome to role-play and have people doing whatever. She started yammering in the back of my brain, saying, 'You have to do my story.'"

This year, the Powers That Be at NaNoWriMo headquarters also appointed Tongco the region's municipal liaison -- the head cheerleader, mentor and organizer-of-local-write-ins -- for the Inland Empire region, in which 155 "WriMos" call home.

For the next couple of Saturdays, Tongco is hosting write-ins at It's A Grind coffee shop, 33215 Highway 79 South, in the Ralphs shopping center at the corner of Butterfield Stage Road. It's a chance for WriMos to get together and write in some semblance of a social setting, since writing tends to be a fairly solitary affair. The write-ins start at 12:30 p.m. and usually last a couple of hours, she said, "until people need to go or get tired of looking at each other."

After that, it depends on how everybody's schedules go, Tongco said. There's an event calendar for the region on the NaNoWriMo Web site where WriMos can check for future write-in dates, she added. She operates under the screen name "kalindria."

NaNoWriMo has grown from 21 participants its first year in 1999 (of which six crossed the "finish line") to 59,000 participants in 2005 (of which 9,769 finished). And while the group's volunteer spirit means it relies on the wallets of WriMos and generous sponsors to keep the event going year after year, one of the other aspects to NaNoWriMo that impresses Tongco is the organization's crusade for literacy. Half of the proceeds the group receives this year as a newly minted 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization will go toward building libraries in Vietnam, Tongco said.

Last year, the group raised $14,000 toward building seven libraries in Laos. This year, WriMos have donated nearly $100,000, halfway toward its goal of $200,000.

Though Nov. 1 has come and gone, it's not too late to join in this year's madness.

"Just write," Tongco advises WriMos. "Don't think about it, don't go back and fix it, just plow forward. If you want to finish, just go -- go, go, go."

Fifty thousand words. Thirty days.

Do it. Your Great American novelist is begging to sound out.

[CINDY HUNG / The North County Times]

Thursday, November 2, 2006

NaNoWriMo's the name, a novel is the game

It’s that little voice inside her that tells her she shouldn’t write, that her writing is silly and that she should just stop right now. She’s even named the voice … Pyra.

But this is November. National Novel Writing Month (the cool kids call it NaNoWriMo). When thousands of folks like Woestehoff take the challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. So, Woestehoff has no time to deal with Pyra, her internal editor.

“I send her off, letting her know that I dislike her very much and want her to go away,” the Greeley writer said. “If she doesn’t leave, I just don’t pay attention to her. If what I write is horrible, that’s okay.”

Quanitity over quality. That’s what it’s about for NaNo-ers, or NaNo-ites or whatever their sleep-reduced, over-caffeinated brains call themselves. It’s not about writing good … err, I mean well. It’s just about writing. Getting words on paper. At least 1,667 per day.

NaNo (as the cooler kids call it) was founded by Chris Baty in Oakland, Calif., who started with 21 writers in 1999 (only six finished). Thanks to the power of the Net, word(s) spread and aimless would-be authors from around the world have come together on More than 75,000 writers are expected to participate this year.

“It is a great creative outlet that sets restrictions on editing yourself, and I really need that,” said Andy Segal of Greeley who finished his first novel last year in November and is working on his second for this year.

But all of this incredible word production comes at a cost because there are just so many hours in a day. The dog will walk himself. The dishes will get done in December. Sleep? Over-rated. Friends and family? They probably already know you’re a little nuts. And those Must-See TV shows become Must-Tivo.

“Housekeeping definitely slips,” said Robin Dean of Fort Collins, “But I’m embarrassed to admit that I also lose pretty much all contact with my friends who aren’t doing NaNo during the month.”

When November is over, when the words have all been counted and winners (those who cross the 50,000-word mark) are celebrated, what do these fatigued word generators earn?

Not much really. They can print out a certificate. And most, like Woestehoff, will print out their novels (usually about 100-150 pages) and use up a bunch of printer toner. “I will definitely take it around with me everywhere I go and brag and force my friends to acknowledge it, and then they give me the ‘She’s crazy’ look behind my back,” she said.

[Jared Fiel / NEXTnc]

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

November is National Novel Writing Month

Today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month, affectionately called "nanowrimo" by the tens of thousands of its participants. Now in its 8th year, the month's premise is simple, really: Write 50,000 words in 30 days and earn the right to call yourself a novelist.

This fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to writing forces novelists to get the words down and out, instead of stressing about little things like symmetry and syntax. Gone is the luxury of finding the exact turn for a phrase. Nanowrimo forces participants to think about quantity, not quality. About 1,667 words a day.

According to the nanowrimo website:
Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
The creators believe that the noveling process can be a fun and even social experience, so they've recruited a bunch of municipal liaisons to motivate writers in their area, including LA. There are group "write-ins" taking place throughout the city, too. So if you see a bunch of over-caffeinated folks, furiously pounding away at their laptops, you've probably stumbled onto one of them.

For more information on the month and local happenings, please visit the nanowrimo site. It's not too late to join in the fun...

**This LAist poster is going to give Nanowrimo a try this year for the first time...and will be giving word count updates a during the month.

[Christine N. Ziemba / LAist]