“No Plot? No Problem!” Novel Writing Month Begins

Writers write. This is a lesson all young authors must learn before they can hope to capture any sort of success in their chosen field. Next month, an opportunity to write on a massive scale will present itself.

Nov. 1 marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month—often shortened to NaNoWriMo—an internet-based creative writing project that introduces people to the discipline of writing novels. Over the course of one month, participants are challenged to produce a minimum of 50,000 words before the deadline at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30. During that time, they have access to the NaNoWriMo website, which provides them with tips, advice and access to an online community of support.

David Leigh, an English professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Seattle University, thinks that NaNoWriMo is a good opportunity for writers to experience what it’s like to write every day. The problem, he says, is that 50,000 words will only get you half of a novel. This means that participants will need to add on to their work after the month ends if they really want their story to be published. Still, Leigh added, it’s a great chance to learn more about what it takes to write a novel.
“There’s a lot of complexity to a novel,” Leigh said. “This writing month gives you a whole group of people to do it with, it gives you a schedule and so forth. Once you’ve learned that, you can do it on your own.”

Since participants only have a month to get their story on paper, the idea is to focus on completion instead of perfection. The NaNoWriMo slogan: No plot? No Problem!
Kayla Trail, a Municipal Liason in Seattle, discovered NaNoWriMo in 2008 while she was in college. She loved the community aspect of it, especially when people threw parties or when writers met up to work on their novels together. After college, she moved back home where there was no such community. Seeking a support system, Trail discovered NaNoWriMo and became involved with the organization. This is her second year as a Municipal Liaison.

“This year I’m throwing the kickoff party [at St. James Espresso in Kirkland],” Trail said. “It’s on Halloween night. Everyone dresses up and at midnight we start writing. There’s lots of candy and there’s lots of coffee. We usually stay up until 3 in the morning getting the first parts of our novel out, and that’s really exciting.”

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to promote creativity worldwide. Writers who want to participate can register on the website where they can post profile information about themselves and the novel they wish to write.

Municipal leaders like Trail and regional forums help writers connect with locals in the area to meet and support each other. According to Trail, participants take part in the event for a wide variety of reasons. Some of them have careers in writing and want to use it as an exercise to make progress for their next project. Some of them dream about publishing a novel one day. Others do it for fun.

“I think it’s a good way to practice,” Trail said. “It’s just an exercise of getting the words down, getting the ideas out, and if you have something that you could work with at the end of it, you can spend however long working with what you wrote.”

English Professor Susan Meyers is the author of “Failing the Trapeze,” a historical novel about her family’s circus that was published last year. She began writing the novel by trying to understand the links between different aspects of family lore. To do this, she needed two things: one was a more systematic approach to gathering information—recording oral histories would help her trace out the whole trajectory of the story—the other was a lot of free-writing.

“I’m a writer who does not write from outlines,” Meyers said. “I do a lot of messy writing at the beginning of the process. I need to throw a lot of stuff on the canvas.”

To Meyers, NaNoWriMo sounds like a fun event. She sees two key benefits in participating: one is the productivity, the other is the community building. Though she prefers to write on her own, in a solitary space, she knows that working with others is a good way to delineate ideas, questions and frustrations.

“I think there is a lot of usefulness in knowing that other people are working on things at the same time that you are,” Meyers said. “There can be so many frustrations in trying to produce art.”

Folks looking to participate in the event can sign up online at the National Novel Writing Month Website by Nov. 1.

Nick may be reached at [email protected]