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]

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