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]

No comments:

Post a Comment