Friday, November 13, 2009

Mountain View writers tackle National Novel Writing Month

For some, the month of November brings with it dread of the cold. For others, thoughts turn to turkey and stuffing.

But for National Novel Writing Month's many diehard participants, November means writing.

National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo for short — challenges professional authors, aspiring writers and plain creative types to produce a 175-page, 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Now in its tenth year, the program has resulted in good times, new friendships, purple prose, demolished writer's blocks, countless reams of senseless stream-of-consciousness writing, and at least one success story: the New York Times bestseller "Water for Elephants."

For many, if not most, participants, the goal is simply to reach the word count. To help writers reach this goal, "write-ins" are held regularly around the Bay Area, including one at East West Bookstore on a recent Monday. Ten people showed up to write together in a quiet, focused group.

Diane Holcomb, a book buyer for East West Bookstore, is participating in NaNoWriMo for the third time this year. Writing what she describes as a "'Sleepless in Seattle,' mainstream love story," she doesn't have time to focus on perfect writing.

Instead, Holcomb says, she just writes as much as she can.

"You do write a lot of garbage, but something wonderful comes out and it takes over," she said. "You know you're not going to come away with the best American novel, ready to send to a publisher, (but) you'll have a rough draft."

The concept of quantity over quality — proselytized by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty in his book "No Plot? No Problem!" — seems to be the particular draw for many participants.

Bridget Flynn, a freelance editor and writer who lives in Mountain View, believes the deadline and required word count is the perfect impetus for people like her, forcing them to get the raw story on the page.

"We really need this. Because the ones who procrastinate are also the ones who I think judge their own work really harshly," she said. "If you judge your work you're going to sit there and agonize over each paragraph and I think in the end, 'You don't produce.'"

Sue Wilhite, a tarot reader and assistant manger at East West Bookstore, also finds the deadline helpful. She has published two books already, the second of which took her seven years to complete.

"NaNoWriMo is really forcing me to drill down and focus," she said. "It certainly makes (writing) the priority choice of a number of things I can do."

Holcomb and Flynn both said that putting thoughts to the page is a very personal process. Holcomb finds that ordinary observations made in her everyday life — such as meals she's eaten, or outfits she sees on the street — keep cropping up in her writing.

"It all just goes into the pot," she said. "The subconscious makes all of this make sense; it's like a waking dream."

Flynn says she's proud of the very act of writing, even when the quality is not her best. At the Monday night write-in, she said, she sat down and cranked out 10 pages in a single session.

"I felt powerful because I was being true to myself by writing this story," she said. "This story is a part of who I am. It's an expression of me, and I finally feel comfortable enough to express that part — so I'm really proud of myself for that."

[Dana Sherne / Mountain View Voice]

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