Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Contest forces writers to think differently

NaNoWriMo. It's one silly little word with a lot of other words behind it - 50,000 words, to be exact.

November is National Novel Writing Month and this year marks the 10th anniversary of an organization whose mission is to turn people into budding novelists. Founded in 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty, is a nonprofit literary crusade that encourages aspiring novelists all over the world to write a 50,000-word novel in a month.

"The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creative potential like nothing else," says Baty. "When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it's a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month."

Participants can log on to the Web site anytime between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 - keeping in mind the 50,000-word challenge - and throw caution to the wind.

The purpose of the "contest" is to encourage people who normally wouldn't have time or patience to sit down and write a novel to actually do so, according to one local participant, Melody Smith.

"You have a deadline. You don't have time to be self-critical," she said. "What you write may not be the greatest, but you get it out."

Smith, 27, has had an interest in writing since taking journalism and English courses in high school.

"I read a lot. I love Dave Barry, and I'm inspired by people. I'm a people watcher," she said.

Smith, who is an office manager at River City Tavern and Grill in Marietta, has met other aspiring writers through the forums on the Web site.

"It's a great way to communicate, to ask questions and get input from other writers," she said.

Locally, according to Smith, there are about 10 to 12 folks signed up with the site, but she hopes more people will be inspired to give writing a try. She said the owner has even agreed to allow the local group to come together at River City Tavern and Grill and take advantage of a private room and Wi-Fi access.

Baty says he continues to be stunned by the number of participants.

"When we started, there were 21 of us. Now we have 120,000 in 80 countries," he said.

There is also a secondary Young Writers Program, which allows participants 17 years old and younger to set reasonable, yet challenging, word-count goals, according to the site. There are more than 18,000 young people who are involved in the program.

"A lot of what we do defies conventional wisdom," Baty said. "There's the belief that everyone under 25 is too busy playing video games and texting, but we have so many students who make time to write a novel and the only prize is the novel itself."

Some NaNoWriMo participants, however, have gone on to achieve more than just the knowledge that they have the ability produce a 50,000 word novel.

Sara Gruen's NaNoWriMo novel, "Water for Elephants," spent 12 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Gruen joins a growing list of "Wrimos" who have had their works sold to publishers.

"It's not something that I expected," said Baty, adding that some professional novelists use the Web site to get over a slump. "They need the terrifying deadline.

"There's a misconception that it (NaNoWriMo) is about writing bad books. It's not. It's about giving them a time frame to let them focus," he said.

The real idea behind National Novel Writing Month, however, is the love of words and the magic of storytelling, not making money.

"It's not done for fame or fortune," Baty stressed. "It's all about the love of creating.

"Novel-writing can be fun. It doesn't need to be cloistered agony. Everyone has a book in them," he said.

[Erin O’Neill / Marietta Times]

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