Sunday, December 14, 2008

Novel Experience: Reader turns writer in 30-day book challenge

Modesto Bee - Viki Sprague.
December 12, 2008 for Xpress yourself.
(Brian Ramsay/The Modesto Bee)
Viki Sprague always has been a reader and always has loved books.

But the Patterson resident didn't start writing until she saw an online story about National Novel Writing Month -- a month where people are encouraged to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

She did it last year, and she organized weekly "write-ins" in Modesto and Turlock this year.

"I knew by the age of 6 that I wanted to be a writer ... someday," Sprague said.

She completed her novel from last year, and she hopes to finish this year's novel as well.

Q: So, what made you decide to write a novel in November?

A: After a severe illness in October 2007, one that I was not expected to recover from, I read an online article about NaNoWriMo and I decided, "Why not?" I suppose it was a matter of finally giving myself "permission" to take the time for something that meant a lot to me. It was the best decision I ever made! I can honestly say that it changed my life.

Last year, I "won," which means that I reached my goal of 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. The name of that story is "Chasing Strange." I was hooked. The experience changed my writing and more importantly, my entire focus on writing. This year, it was a given that I'd to it again, and I ended up with 51,319 words. This year's story is called "The Sin-Eaters."

Q: So what is the novel about?

A: My 2008 story is a complete departure of what and how I usually write. It comes to me in what I refer to as "revelations," for lack of a better way to explain it. It has occurred to me a portion at a time. Uncanny in some ways, but very satisfying. It is the result of years and years of interest in civil rights, twins, the Great Depression -- an amalgam that came together as the "voice" of my main character. My story takes place early in the 20th century, is about a woman of Gullah heritage. She was separated from her twin at a young age, then told by her mother that he never existed. The rest of the story entails her search for him, and once she finds him, how both of their lives change, often tragically. This is a story about good people and the choices they have to make when pressed beyond their breaking point. I am approximately one-third of the way through what the finished book will be.

Q: How long has writing been a creative output for you? How did you get into writing?

A: My writing grew from an early passion for reading -- though, sadly, I never allowed myself to spend time on it as an adult. As a mother of three, working, commuting, etc., there never seemed to be enough time. But, as I mentioned, all that changed in 2007. I wrote a very short piece of fiction (1,000 words) for a writing competition early in 2007 and my story was one of the winning entries.

Q: How did you hook up with the Web site as far as being a moderator? What were your responsibilities on that end?

A: In 2007, I was so disappointed to discover that there were no local NaNoWriMo events in our local area: Kick-Off, Half-Way-There, TGIO parties, weekly "write-ins" -- because there was not a municipal liaison in Modesto. The weekly write-ins, where local participants meet together to write, talk about writing, commiserate and encourage each other, is an important and fun feature of participating. So, this year, I volunteered for the "job" and have really enjoyed meeting wonderful local NaNoWriMo folks from Modesto as well as many outlying areas. Several of us have agreed to keep on meeting every week to write -- we think that this group commitment/accountability will encourage us to keep our writing in the forefront of our busy schedules. We hope to begin sharing our work with each other for mutual feedback/critiquing in early spring 2009.

I was also privileged to attend a special event in San Francisco in mid-November -- it was called the Night of Writing Dangerously. Scores of NaNo people from all over the USA (as well as a couple of intrepid international ones) met together for five hours of writing together.

Q: What would be some tips you would give to somebody who wanted to try this out next November?

A: First, perhaps the most important one: Find your courage and just do it! Turn off those inner doubts, those inner editors. A beloved fellow NaNo writer who is now a close friend has a wonderful quote for her signature line: Winning is crossing the starting line.

Second: Sign-up begins in mid-October at the Web site -- on it, there are many forums with helpful, humorous advice. Sign up early and begin reading the wealth of knowledge and suggestions that are shared in those forums. They will go a long way to making your writing successful in the coming weeks.

Third: Have fun! This is all about having fun with writing. One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that there is no expectation of excellence! This is all-out, over-the-top, unedited writing. It's OK if it's awful. This is, in effect, a first draft. Polishing and perfecting can come later. No pressure to be wonderful ... yet!

[Will DeBoard / The Modest Bee]