Friday, November 30, 2007

It's a novel effort: 50,000 words in 30 days

Gail Lynes (left) of Everett and Heidi Fuller
of Machias work on fast-and-furious fiction
at a National Novel Writing Month write-in
Thursday night at the Espresso Americano
cafe in the Everett Public Library.
Heidi Fuller looked up from her laptop -- from the novel she's furiously writing -- but only for a moment. A hard and fast deadline was two nights away.

"It's all about the word count," she said.

Really, it is? This would-be novelist has always assumed it's all about intriguing plot twists and exquisite prose. Nah, forget that.

This is the final day of National Novel Writing Month. Tens of thousands of writers from here to Tanzania are typing as fast as they can. They're telling tales of anything and everything to finish a crazy assignment: Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Their deadline is midnight tonight.

"The first year, mine was embarrassing smut," said Fuller, 31, a mechanical engineer who works for Boeing and lives in Machias. This is her fourth year of involvement in the frenzied writing exercise, and she's moved on to other genres: young-adult fiction and fantasy.

Wednesday night, she sat at a corner table in the Everett Public Library's Espresso Americano cafe. She was joined by her husband, Mark Fuller, and several others for the final Everett "write-in" of National Novel Writing Month 2007.

Quantity, not quality, is the overriding rule of this offbeat effort, with a close second being the notion that it's no fun writing alone.

Started in 1999 by Oakland, Calif., freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 other fledgling novelists, it's grown into a global movement organized through a nonprofit Web site, www. The site describes it as "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing." Baty is now a published author -- of "No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days."

As for mechanics, writers sign up online beginning Oct. 1, and choose a "home region." There are online forums and local events. Some writers work in anonymity, others meet and share ideas. The aim is to lower the bar on standards to boost the odds of getting something done. Last year, about 79,000 writers signed up, and nearly 13,000 finished.

Works are submitted and a program counts words, which are unread. In the end, the writer owns the book. Those hitting the 50,000 mark are winners. There's no prize, beyond a certificate (you print it out yourself) and the satisfaction of knowing you've written something. There is a place on the site for donations to National Novel Writing Month efforts and a Young Writers program.

Gail Lynes of Everett has already hit 50,000 words, but by Wednesday her first novel wasn't done. "Mine is a sci-fi story. It's 1,000 years in the future. Archaeological digs unearth old musical instruments," said Lynes, 57, who plays drums as a hobby.

When she started, Lynes had a rough outline. "It took me where it was going," she said. With her husband pursuing a degree at the University of Washington, she's had time to write while he studies. She hadn't had time until Wednesday to meet other writers. Not long into the evening, they all seemed like old friends.

It's also a first effort for Mark Fuller, Heidi's husband, a 43-year-old research engineer at Boeing. He doubted Wednesday he'd finish in time, but he's had fun. He took a short-story approach, writing several tales with a common theme. "There's a particular object in each story," said Fuller, not revealing that object.

Claire Cruver and Ardyth Purkerson, both veterans of the effort, have serious ambitions. Purkerson, 29, of Lake Stevens writes children's literature. She's writing three novels for school-age kids, "one with anthropomorphic animals."

"I'm going to get published this time," said Cruver, 24, of Everett, whose story centers on angels inhabiting Earth after heaven becomes overpopulated. She's a fan of bestselling authors Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich.

Those writers surely have different methods than the cooperative approach this group takes. Heidi Fuller, a sort of cheerleader for the group, hands out little toys to spur writers on. They share ideas, too.

"I asked for the name of a soup, and Claire said 'chestnut and lobster bisque,' " said Heidi.

"And one night I looked at Mark and said, 'I need a disaster,' " Cruver said.

In four years of writing, Purkerson has been in several cities, once in Oregon, another time in El Paso, Texas. "It's fun. You meet new people at these gatherings," she said.

Asked what they all have in common, Heidi Fuller laughed and said "laptops."

Cruver elaborated, adding, "They're all very creative people, interested in reading and writing."

And partying, too. Still on deadline Wednesday, they were already planning a celebration for Saturday.

What about editing? What about rewriting and polishing those golden words?

"We save revisions for December," Purkerson said.

[Julie Muhlstein / HeraldNet]

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