Monday, November 15, 2010

Lincolnites get involved in National Novel Writing Month

Crete Middle School teacher Mary Unger (middle)
 helps students Nick Barber (left), 11, and Noah
Keck, 10, work on their novels as part of the
program for November's National Novel Writers
Month. (JACOB HANNAH / LincolnJournal Star)
The maxim goes: Everyone's got a book in him.

Every November, tens of thousands of would-be novelists set out to prove it.

November is National Novel Writing Month, the 12th annual writing program that gives writers an absurd goal: write a 175-page (or 50,000-word) novel from Nov. 1-30.

The program started in 1999 with 21 writers in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since grown to 200,000 participants in 90 countries. More than 1,000 Nebraskans are banging out their NaNoWriMo books this month; more than 200 of them are in Lincoln. Ages range from tween to octogenarian.

All this month the Lincoln group is hosting "write-ins" throughout town, in which writers shut themselves into a room for a few hours and get some words on the page.

The goal isn't to write a masterpiece - or even a very good book, for that matter, said Lisa Kovanda, liaison for the Lincoln group and three-year NaNoWriMo participant. The goal is to finish. Think quantity over quality; fine-tune it later. Better can wait.

Kovanda's first year, she "started with nothing more than a sentence scribbled in a notebook," she said. "I didn't have a plot and really had to make it up as I went along."

But she finished. This year, she's about 20,000 words into her latest attempt, "Letters to Lucy," a supernatural thriller about an arachnophobic writer struggling to come up with a plot for a new novel (another maxim: write what you know) who finds himself tangled in a web of terror and nasty flesh-colored spiders.

NaNoWriMo "gives me the freedom to run with something," said Kovanda, who writes novels outside of November, as well. "It takes a little more editing in the end. But it gives me a chance to break out of what I usually do."

While chunks of pages are just rambling, Kovanda admitted, there's good stuff there, too. It's raw, honest writing that might not have emerged if she'd had more time to think about it.

Crete Elementary teacher Mary Unger is not only working on her third attempt at NaNoWriMo, she's also convinced 13 of her fifth- and sixth-grade students to participate as well.

"Someone's got 13,000 words already," she said. "Another student's got 5,000. A little girl has 8,000. Some who have signed up have already fallen off, though."

Not everybody makes it, obviously. In fact, only about a sixth of participants finish. But the ones who do get a softbound copy of their novel free of charge printed by the National Novel Writing Month organization. Then you're technically a published author, though you might not get Random House to put your book in tens of thousands of households across America.

But you'll have your book. You'll get to put yourself on your shelf, good book or bad.

Admittedly, most are bad. At least at first.

But a few National Novel Writing Month books have gone on to be published, and some have become best-sellers. Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" started out as a NaNoWriMo book.

Unger's own book, a 1700s-set historical novel of which she's about 25,000 words in, is "so bad," she said. "It's so much better in my head."

But, she said, she's got plenty of time after Nov. 30 to make it something worth reading.

Some of the books being written by Lincolnites:

  • "Huachuca Sunrise": Gunslingers Sid and Jake find love in 1870s Arizona.
  • "Bloodmage": Drunk, washed-up detective Casey is hired to find a missing woman, but the trail leads through a world of magic, mysticism, danger and Casey's own past.
  • "My List of Grievances Against Humanity": An unspecified amount of time in the future, most of humanity's strings were cut. This is the story of those who survived -- among them an orphan, a pragmatist, a wishful biker and the one who caused man's demise.
  • "The Fall of Joy": A coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family.
  • "Teacher's Lesson": Lynne is living the dream, doing what she's passionate about. But an assignment she cannot turn down sends her back home. Now her passions and her past collide, with lives on the line.
  • "Lessons from a Road Trip": Brielle loses the one thing she loves the most: her brother Nathan. Heartbroken and angry, she takes off on a road trip with only a handwritten note to her parents and coworkers.
  • "Thin Air": A woman is vanishing - disappearing into thin air. Soon, all that will be left of her is her butter-yellow station wagon, filled with the minutiae of 20-some years on the road, abandoned at a Kinko's copy center in Jacksonville, Fla.
  • "What a Year": Woman trouble, missing persons and a psychotic best friend conspire to make what seems like misery into the greatest adventure of Marshall's life.
  • "No Sex For Old Dogs": An elderly scientist with ALS gets a new lease on life when she's offered a fully prosthetic body and an opportunity to pick up research she was forced to abandon decades ago. But her field of study has changed over the years, and a growing, unhealthy competition between government and corporate interests for her research puts her principles and life at risk.
[MICAH MERTES / Lincoln Journal Star]

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