Monday, November 15, 2010

Brave authors attempt to write a novel in one month

photo courtesy of Flickr user Valeriana Solaris
When envisioning a novelist at work, it’s easy to picture a tortured artist laboring for months over a single paragraph or the precise rhythm of a sentence.

The agonizing process of writing and rewriting can go on for years, and some of the world’s most lauded novelists produce only a handful of books during their entire career.

That’s one way to write a novel, but it’s far from the only one.

As the 200,000 writers currently taking part in National Novel Writing Month can attest, writing a novel can also be a lightning-quick process where revisions and nit-picking go completely by the wayside.

NaNoWriMo, as the participants refer to it, is often called a writing marathon, but in reality it's more akin to a sprint.

Here’s how it works: Would-be novelists sign up for NaNoWriMo and begin their journey at 12:01 a.m. on November 1. By midnight on November 30, their goal is to have produced a 50,000-word novel.

That’s about 1,666 words per day. Assuming they sleep eight hours each night, the writers are responsible for producing just over 100 words of prose each and every waking hour in November.

Seattle writer Renda Dodge is currently writing her sixth NaNoWriMo novel and has served as a municipal liaison for the past four years.

As a liaison, Dodge works with many of the nearly 6,000 locals taking part in NaNoWriMo. She leads weekly “write-ins,” where participants gather at a local coffee shops or bookstores to write and encourage each other.

Dodge, who’s a published novelist, is part cheerleader and part taskmaster when dealing with fellow writers.

She knows how daunting a task NaNoWriMo can be, and she said offering support to the community of writers is what keeps her going.

“It’s absolutely about the community,” she said. “To be able to get all these people together, encouraging each other and having fun, that’s why I keep doing it.”

Like many struggling writers, Dodge had always wanted to write a novel but was intimated by the level of commitment it required. By forcing her to start and finish the novel in a single month, Dodge said NaNoWriMo gave her permission to take a stab at long-form writing.

None but a delusional few expect the novels produced during NaNoWriMo to be great, and that’s the whole point. Event organizers accurately describe the task on NaNoWriMo's website, saying “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”

When the dust settles and the pens, laptops and typewriters are finally put away, the participants who actually finished their novels celebrate the end of November with a “Thank God it’s Over” party.

To help fund the various parties and write-ins that happen during the month, NaNoWriMo is collecting used books to sell. Books can be dropped off at any of NaNoWriMo's write-ins or at Capitol Hill's Hugo House on Saturdays. Collected books will sold via, with the profit going to benefit the Office of Letters and Light, which is the organization that puts on NaNoWriMo as well as various Young Writers Programs around the world.

[Conor Christofferson / Capitol Hill Komo]


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