Thursday, October 29, 2009

November is for Nanowrimo

Have you always wanted to write the Great American Novel but struggled to find motivation and time? Well friends, let Nanowrimo be your guide. Nanowrimo, short for National Novel Writing Month, begins November 1st and lasts until midnight November 30th. It is "thirty days and nights of literary abandon."

The idea of the contest (now in it's 11th year) is to write a 175-page novel (or 50,000 word) by the end of the month. Nanowrimo is more about quantity than quality and writers have the month of December to edit their novel. In 2008, there were over 119,000 participants and more than 21,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline. The contest rules are fairly simple and writers upload their novels on the website in order to be eligible for a winner's certificate at the end of the month.

Nanowrimo was founded in 1999 by Chris Baty and twenty other writers. That year the contest was held in July and of the 21 participants, only six met the goal. By 2003 there were 25,500 participants and 3,500 finishers. Nanowrimo is now run by the Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California. Nanowrimo isn't just for amateur authors, many published authors do it as well. Ally Carter, wrote her third Gallagher Girls novel Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover during Nanowrimo. This year authors like Maureen Johnson, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore and Jasper Fforde will be participating and offering advice to writers.

For more information about Nanowrimo, visit the Nanowrimo website.

[Danielle Dreger-Babbitt / Seattle Books Examiner]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

'The Pledge' to publish Writing Group

There are writer's groups and then, there are Writer's Groups. Why do some groups just seem to fade away, and others stay together and actually publish? The difference is organization, dedication and determination. This is what you will find when you meet the members of ‘The Pledge’. As founder, Tim Yao explains, “’The Pledge’ originally started off as the pledge to publish, and the whole concept behind that was we had written stories for Nanowrimo, and that was a November thing and we wanted some kind of continuing writer’s group so that we could help each other get published."

Members of the first writing group met through their participation in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in 2006. Tim was the Municipal Liaison for the Naperville region and kept the momentum going throughout the year with emails, Jabber chat and regular meetings. “In previous incarnations, the pledge had been a little bit more of a social group. We had more outings in previous years than we did this year. We decided early on that we needed something to focus the group with. The previous years, we had written some short stories, more as a way to practice giving critiques of each other’s work, than anything else. And so this year, we decided to actually write and publish, self-publish, a short story anthology; a little more ambitious, but not as ambitious as maybe we could have been. This seemed a little bit more, almost like a working relationship, to jointly produce the anthology. It was more productive than in previous years.”

The current group has been together since NaNoWriMo, 2008. “We started with 12, we finished with 12. We had some people who almost dropped out along the way but we managed to pull them back in. In a way, it was kind of an extension of what you see with NaNoWriMo, where some have described it as trying to ‘herd cats’. And I think there was some aspects to that with ‘the Pledge’; getting people to meet deadlines and get everything done. But we’re finally at the point where we have finished the stories, the work has been put together and edited; we are close to having a cover done, and we should be able to get it up on Amazon very shortly.” Tim Yao has been Municipal Liaison, or head ‘cat herder’ of the NaNoWrimo Naperville region and of ‘the Pledge’ since 2006.

Katherine Lato, also a Municipal Liaison, joined the group in 2007. She explains how new members hear about and join the group. “We were all part of Nano last year, so we advertised the fact that there was going to be a pledge. We started having Jabber chats and we basically got an email list together of people who were interested. We had a meeting in January, and at that, hammered out the theme for the anthology and basic rules: No more than 5000 words- short stories and you’re going to read each other’s work. We’re talking short stories. We’re going to read each other’s stories. We had to critique three other’s stories in the first round, two other’s stories in the second round with a detailed critique. That requires that you read three entire short stories. One thing I did was make sure that anybody who had given critiques got a critique” Katherine is the editor of the anthology.

Tim adds that there were times when it looked like this wasn't going to happen. "The worst part came some time after or right around first draft. After the first draft, when people had done something, most of them had put something out and we were trying to get the critiques done and then, people seemed to go into that stretch of time where they become busy. Some people started to lose interest and I just had visions of a failed pledge where we had set goals and we wouldn’t accomplish them and it looked like the whole thing was going to falter. That was the worst time." It was a lot of work for everyone involved.

There were no regrets. Katherine explains. “My thought process was it was a way to get to know the members of the group by reading their writing because you get to know a lot about a person by reading their writing. It was a nice way to be able to learn more about each person because you could read everybody’s short stories.“ Tim, “For me, the best time was when we finally regained some momentum and people went through and they produced their second and third drafts and they got the reviews done and we even pulled one writer back from the brink where he hadn’t even finished his first draft, and he went through and completed that, and did all the requirements, and now, it looks like we’re going to have a successful completion.” Mike appreciated the feedback he received on his work, and learned a lot in the process of giving feedback to others. "Hopefully, I tried to make each critique instructive, and as far as I know, nobody got mad at what I said, so it all worked out ok. The best part was the very nice feedback I was getting on my story. That’s always nice to hear. I had no idea how it would be received. I agreed with all of the constructive criticism that I got and was pleasantly surprised that …so people just liked it. “

What are the writer’s hopes for the book? Tim, “I don’t think it’s going to be a critical success. I think these kinds of books tend not to be. But its nice to go through the process and get something out there. And that’s something. I personally enjoy doing this. I hope that we can do it again.” Mike, “One thing that pushes me toward submitting my work as a novelist is encouragement from friends, and here’s something that is published in a book and they’re going to tell me if I should be putting more of my work out there. So this is one more way to push me to get some of my work ready for publication.”

What advice would they give to someone who is thinking about writing, or who wants to finish that novel? With no hesitation, the author’s answers were unanimous. Katherine, “Try NaNo.” Tim, “Yeah, NaNoWriMo. It’s fun, and you do a lot of writing. And writing with a group of people is a lot more enjoyable, I think, than just writing by yourself; maybe I’m more of a social writer” Katherine, “Seriously, try Nano.” Mike, “Or just write. You can’t say you want to be a writer and not do the writing. The more you write the better you get.”

“What do you do for an encore after completing your novel for National Novel Writing Month? At the end of 2008, twelve aspiring novelists came together in a group called The Pledge to hone their writing skills. Together they decided to write a short story anthology. There is an infinite monkey theorem that says that "a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text such as the complete works of William Shakespeare'[Wikipedia]. If monkeys could produce Shakespeare, the novelists believed they could produce a short story anthology; and so, the title "Infinite Monkeys" was born. What is in this book, however, has nothing to do with monkeys. Infinite or otherwise. Each story in this book explores themes of redemption. The stories traverse different genres and moods, ranging from light humor to dark mystery.”

For more information about the Naperville group:

For more information about NaNoWrimo, National Novel Writing Month:

[Bonnie Jean Adams / Examiner]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Month of plotting results in novels

November will shortly settle on the valley, bringing with it colder weather, muted landscapes and, for many, the gift of family and friends in the celebration of Thanksgiving.

For a focused few of the area's writers, however, November means something entirely different -- a month of "literary abandon."

National Novel Writing Month, an organization that began in 1999 with 21 friends in San Francisco, has since expanded to almost 120,000 adults and 22,000 young writers around the world. NaNoWriMo, as participants affectionately refer to it, gathers aspiring and even published novelists together each November through the Web site

Participants begin writing their manuscripts on Nov. 1 and have until midnight on Nov. 30 to reach the goal -- 50,000 words -- which will effectively change the way they view themselves forevermore. They are no longer closet writers; they are novelists.

"It was just a whim," Tyler Willson, 35, of Winchester, said recently of his decision to join NaNoWriMo at the very last minute, on Oct. 31, 2005. He was sitting at home, then in Texas, on Halloween night surfing the Internet betwixt expectant knocks on the door from trick-or-treaters, when he happened upon a Web page that posed the question, "Do you want to write a novel?"

Willson had not written much of anything since college, but the offer to write a novel in a month was too intriguing to pass up.

"It was really interesting to rediscover my love for stories and words," he said.

Willson completed the 50,000 words, despite not having prepared a plot or characters beforehand. He just made it up as he went along.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "I remembered how much fun it was to write stories."

Susan Warren Utley, of Front Royal, can relate.

"Year one, when I didn't plan a thing, that was the one that came full circle," said Utley, 43. None of her novels since then has been quite as complete, with a clear beginning, middle and end. She hopes her initial strategy will work for her again this year.

"I've got an idea and I'm trying not to plan," she said.

Having a plot planned out doesn't necessarily help once the writing begins, as Emily Heflin, of Winchester, learned.

"Last year I got stuck, like, 500 words into my story ... and Susan goes 'Kill someone,' [in the book] and I did, and it turned into sort of a mystery, crime novel," said Heflin, 25.

"[This year] I'm writing about corpse snatcher monster spiders, young love and pirates, set in space," she said. "I pick four incongruent concepts and shove 'em all together and see how that works out."

No monetary award could possibly equal the exhilaration felt upon crossing that 50,000-word finish line, which is fortunate because there is no promise of riches for those who win. The prize is in the achievement alone, the knowledge that now exists a novel where a month ago sat a blank desktop document. Moreover, everyone who writes 50,000 words, approximately 175 pages, "wins" NaNoWriMo, leaving the door open for potentially thousands of successful new novelists each year.

"Being a writer is very solitary," said Stacey Graham, 41, of Bluemont. NaNoWriMo is an enormous source of community, she said.

For all their efforts, the writers do receive some notoriety: A downloadable certificate of achievement, their name added to the list of winners and the assurance of assistance in publishing their novel, if they choose to self publish. Most encouraging is the fact that many NaNos (or WriMos, as many prefer) before them have succeeded in publishing their novels, some even through big-name publishers.

After a month of ceaseless typing and, for some, sleepless nights, the tiresome journey will be over and all can then relax -- until next year, for they will be back, and in droves.

The greatest reason they keep coming back year after year to go through the process all over again is for the camaraderie, the excitement and the challenge, the writers said. What could say literary victory like writing a novel in a month?

Despite challenges -- work, family, holidays -- thousands of writers still manage to cross the finish line each year.

"Don't forget, five children," Graham said of her family, laughing.

The road is a long, bumpy one, with plot holes at every turn, but for NaNoWriMo participants, the destination is worth the journey.

"The thing I like most is just the online interaction with people," said Willson.

"It's something I look forward to every November," he said. "As long as I keep enjoying writing, I'll keep doing it. I see no reason to stop."

National Novel Writing Month begins Nov. 1 and ends at midnight Nov. 30. Adults must complete 50,000 words in a month in order to win; children under the age of 18 participating in the Young Writers Program are permitted to choose their goal before beginning on Nov. 1. Teens 13 and older may choose to write as adults and try for the 50,000 word goal. For more information, visit the Web at

[Josette Keelor / Northern Virginia Daily]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

DIY: Write Your Own Novel

Illustration by Tara Fleming
My to-do list for November: rake leaves, mock American friends for their placement of Thanksgiving, write a novel.

Alright, so I may not have a yard or any American friends, but the last one is true. November is National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo, if you like — and each year people the world over join in on the fun and attempt to write their very own novel.

How novel.

Now, writing something like this isn’t as impossibly stupid or stupidly impossible as it may sound. If you can read this sentence, you can write a novel. (If you can’t, go fudge a battleship cackle.) It doesn’t matter if you’ve always dreamed of being a novelist, or if you just want to impress the ladies (which, trust me, doesn’t work.) Anyone can do it. So dust off the pen and paper, throw them away, and get out your laptop.

Before you attempt this, however, a warning. There are pitfalls everywhere. Success, then, hinges on a few important, time-tested strategies.

Free-time management
There aren’t many times in life when the following applies, but neglect is the key to success. Forget cooking. Forget house chores. Forget washing your pants. If it’s not writing, throw it out the window (literally or figuratively.) Your friends can entertain themselves for a while. Showers are optional, but shaving can be cut.

A regular sleep pattern is good. Less sleep and some caffeine is better. Sleepless caffeinated hallucinations are best.

You are not an island. Or if you are, you are part of a large archipelago. Over a hundred thousand people will be attempting NaNoWriMo this year. There are local events where you can meet and get support from fellow writers. Though should you actually live on an island by yourself, the website houses forums where you can discuss plot points, find a quirk for a minor character, or read horror stories about what happens when you don’t backup your work.

Back up your work
Seriously. If you don’t, someone will beat you with a hammer. (And that someone will likely be yourself.)

“It’s about your mom”
You will get asked over and over (and over and over) what your novel is about. Have a one-line answer prepared. “It’s about a vagrant who finds a magical pot roast and uses it to fight crime,” or something. It doesn’t have to reflect your novel in the least, just have one ready to whip out. Also, if the one-liner is weird enough it’ll also work as an instant conversation killer, thus freeing you to return to writing.

You’re glue and it’s also glue
Lastly and most importantly, stick to it! You will want to quit. Don’t. You will think your story sucks and want to start over when you’re part-way through. Don’t. Keep going. It will get better. Eat more candy, drink more coffee, punch someone to vent your frustration if you have to, just keep writing.

If it all goes well, by December first you’ll have a complete novel. Imagine. You’ll also have a really dirty house, some relationships to mend and some rockin’ face and/or leg hair. But you’ll have written a book.
And it won’t completely suck.

Parts of it will be awful because parts of every first draft are awful but, mark my words, there will be gold in ‘dem pages. You’ll read it over and marvel at your own brilliance. You’ll see how frantic writing forces your mind to vomit up all kinds of wonderful things you won’t remember having put in there.

But unlike when that happens with food, it’s a wonderful feeling.

Learn more about NaNoWriMo at

[Angus Woodman / The Scope]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's often been said that there's a novel inside all of us. The real difficulty is finding the time, motivation, and energy to liberate it. For many, the idea of toiling away at a computer for months on end, struggling with unruly characters and unravelling plot-lines is far too much like hard work. But this November a worldwide group of enthusiastic scribes will sit down with the sole intention of writing their 50,000 word masterpieces in just thirty days.

National Novel Writing Month, online at NaNoWriMo, is a non-profit 'literary crusade', whose mission it is to see aspiring writers turn into perspiring writers, as they work at a furious pace to hit the deliberately tight deadline.

"The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creative potential like nothing else," explains Chris Baty, the man behind NaNoWriMo, as well as a regular participant. "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."

The way it works is simple. Participants register at the NaNoWriMo site, create a profile, then once the whistle blows post daily word-counts which are publicly displayed. Over the month these accumulate until - hopefully - the 50,000 target is reached and they are proclaimed 'Winners'. Writers are also recommended to sign up to the various groups that exist on the site so they can challenge and encourage one another - a vital part of the whole idea. This community aspect turns what is usually a very solitary activity into one far more open, something first-time novelist Keith Hughes found very useful.

"It gave me the sense that I was not alone in attempting this," says Keith. "It took this large goal of writing a novel and broke it down to a manageable 1,667 words a day. I also had this strong sense of accountability due to having writing buddies on the NaNo site, posts on my blog about taking this challenge, and many tweets on Twitter before and during the month. All these things helped me to succeed and complete a novel of 70,000 words with five days left over."

It's not uncommon for participants to find innovative ways of motivating each other, as Podcast Novelist Nathan Lowell remembers.

"I entered a 'word battle' group with my town and we were competing against the next town over to see who could get the highest word count. It was fun to watch the graphs grow, as we both tried to have the most people finish. It showed me that there were more writers in my area than I thought."

Far from being the preserve of only aspiring unsigned authors, NaNoWriMo boasts several professional writers. David Niall Wilson is one such author, and a regular participant since 2004.

"What first drew me to it was the idea of a challenge," reveals David. 'It was just a change - sometimes that's what you need to get the creative juices flowing. I liked keeping track of others via the website, and sharing in the forums. Mostly I liked the progress bar feature. I'm pretty competitive, and seeing that thing shoot across the page and the percentage grow gave me extra incentive. The only downside of it is that you can get caught up in all the cool stuff on the site when you should be writing.'

Last year almost 120,000 people joined the crusade, writing over 1.6 billion words between them. So far this year 150,000 people have sharpened their word processors and await the starter's gun. Will you be among them?

[Martyn Casserly / Wired UK]