It’s Time To Write A Novel
By Michelle Matthews Calloway
Has anyone ever said to you, “You ought to write a book?” Do you believe you have the perfect story idea or plot line for a novel that could potentially become a New York Times bestseller – if only you had enough time to write the book? Well, it’s time to stop procrastinating, throw excuses out the window, buckle down and write because it’s NaNoWriMo time!
A Movement Is Born
National Novel Writing Month – affectionately known as “NaNoWriMo” and “NaNo” was founded in July 1999 by Chris Baty, an aspiring writer who longed to write a novel but struggled with the thought of ever finding the time for what he believed to be a laborious and time-intensive undertaking. Baty decided to try to write a novel in a month and was able to get 20 other participants in the San Francisco Bay area to join him in attempting this literary feat.
Baty and his friends learned novel writing no longer held a mystique and believed it was attainable for anyone who wanted to give it a shot. He adds, “We learned that writing a novel could be fun. It was just like watching TV. You get a bunch of friends together, load up on caffeine and junk food, and stare at a glowing screen for a couple hours. And a story spins itself out in front of you.”
The concept of writing a novel in a month caught on like wildfire. The effort began to snowball and by 2004, at least 42,000 people had signed up and were participating in what had quickly grown into a national and international phenomenon. At the request of teachers across the country who were desirous of expanding the creative writing programs in their schools, in 2005 Baty also launched a Young Writers Program for school children age 12 years and younger.
The basic guidelines for participating in NaNo are relatively simple. The challenge is to write a novel with a minimum of 50,000 words within the timeframe of 12 a.m. midnight, Nov. 1 through 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30. Writers, also known as “WriMos” are required to begin their novels completely from scratch and cannot co-author their book with anyone. Writers are encouraged to “write with abandon,” and allow the words to “flow freely onto the screen.” No editing is required at this point because the goal is to get the novel OUT. NaNo organizers stress that the months following November are available for writers to take the next steps of editing and fine-tuning their novels.
Prior to the Nov. 1 start date participants set up a free profile on NaNoWriMo.org to post the title of their book, select a genre and type in a brief synopsis. Writers can upload their words and view a virtual update of their word count. Writers who are able to upload 50,000 words or more receive the distinction of “winning” for that year.
The entire process is based on the honor system because no one checks or reads the content that is uploaded. Winners receive via email a certificate suitable for printing and framing, a badge on their profile and bragging rights for the year they “won” NaNo.
In 2012, more than 341,375 WriMos from around the globe signed up to take the NaNo challenge. Participants are currently broken up into 586 regions on six continents. Louisiana currently boasts seven regions representing Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, New Orleans and Shreveport/Bossier City. One regional group is named “Everywhere in Louisiana” and consists of a potpourri of members from around the state with a few international members sprinkled in. The Lafayette region has grown from three members in 2005 to over 500 current members. This year more than 4,357 Louisiana WriMos plan to take the NaNo challenge to write a novel.
NaNo operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and runs largely on volunteer labor. The regions are guided by volunteer Municipal Liaisons who are also known as MLs. Each region has its own forum on the NaNo website. The regional MLs manage the forums, send out regional emails, moderate Facebook® pages, plan their area’s NaNo kick-off event and “Thank Goodness It’s Over!” party in addition to providing support and encouragement to participants.
Metal works artist and Louisiana Crafts Guild member Angel Juneau is enjoying her third year as ML for the Lafayette Region. Juneau says prior to her first NaNo challenge, she had never written for enjoyment. “I had always written nonfiction things,” reveals Juneau. “I wrote papers for school, grants – but nothing fiction. I thought it would be a fun thing to do, so I signed up five years ago.” Juneau took over duties as the Lafayette ML from Sean Landry of New Iberia. Landry has a Master’s Degree in creative writing from UL-Lafayette and favors the fantasy genre.
Step Write In
To meet the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, WriMos are encouraged to write a minimum of 1,667 words per day. To stay on task and accomplish this feat, many WriMos take part in events called “Write Ins” which are set up by the MLs. During a write in, WriMos gather for hours at a time to sit and work on their novels.
To jumpstart the writing process and get the creative juices flowing for struggling WriMos, Juneau provides a bucket filled with writing prompts. Participants reach into the bucket, pull out a prompt and incorporate the prompt into their novel. Other activities and exercises include writing “sprints,” where writers type on their stories for a specified time to see how much dialog or scenic descriptions can be added to their work. If participants hit an impasse and suffer too long from writer’s block, Juneau may ask them to take part in the writers’ version of musical chairs – each writer moves one computer over, reads the last sentence on the screen and writes for five minutes on someone else’s story!
The write-ins and communal activities fit perfectly into NaNo founder Baty’s model for the program. Baty took the “cloistered, agonized novel-writing process and transformed it into something that was half literary marathon and half block party.” The writing prompts, sprints and musical chairs are usually accompanied by laughter and a greater sense of camaraderie as the WriMos cheer each other on to complete their goals.
The Library Connection
Juneau says when librarians at Lafayette’s South Regional Library realized the write-ins were taking place in the library’s Café, they took the initiative in reaching out to the WriMos and offered to join in on the fun. Information Services Librarian Angie Hurling concurs. “Our Library Director Sona Dombourian approached them and asked if there was something the library could do,” remembers Hurling. “They were already meeting before we got involved, and when we realized they were there, we immediately offered them a better space in the Café.” The WriMos were moved to the library’s large conference room with comfortable chairs. “The table in the conference room seats 18,” Hurling says, “and we have lots of outlets so everyone can power up their laptops.” Hurling says the library also provides complimentary snacks, coffee and tea for the write-ins.
Hurling collaborated with Martha Reed, former director of the creative writing department at UL-L. “Reed was interested in doing writing workshops in relation to NaNo.” Reed came to the 2012 kick-off event and gave the eager WriMos writing tips and helpful handouts. “She came each Tuesday and gave tips to anyone who was interested,” says Hurling. “All of this was a natural fit. We love the idea of people writing novels in the library and reaching their goals.”
Write-ins are held at SRL every Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. during November. Write-ins are also held at the Ernest J. Gaines Center and the Edith Garland Dupré Library at UL-L, and at the South Louisiana Community College Lafayette campus library. Dates and times can be accessed on the Lafayette Forum of the NaNoWriMo website, nanowrimo.org.
Some Novel Ideas
Many of the Lafayette WriMos were eager to discuss their book ideas for this year’s contest. Writers are sometimes categorized as “preppers,” those who prepare outlines, character profiles, timelines and maps in advance of the November kick-off, or “pantsers” – those who wing their novels and prefer instead to “fly by the seat of their pants.”
WriMo Catherine Jordan, a participant since 2008, has two ideas she’s contemplating, one that fits into the paranormal genre and another that is science fiction. J.C. “James” Parker, a library specialist at SLCC in Lafayette, says she’s been lurking on the NaNo forums since 2005 and plans this year to “work out her novel as she goes.” Nine-year participant Ailina Willis, a homeschooling mom from Lafayette who formerly served as ML describes her book as “Hollywood redemption fiction.” Latisha Butler, a stay at home mom from Breaux Bridge, is looking forward to writing her first novel. “This will be my first year doing NaNoWriMo,” says Butler. “I’m planning on writing a paranormal romance. My working title is “From Within The Shadows.”
When discussing the 2012 NaNo, Baty proudly says, “Participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.” Though some scoff at the idea of completing a legitimate literary work during the course of 30 days, Baty only has to point them to a slew of New York Times bestsellers and traditionally published novels that were written as NaNo Challenges, including Sara Gruen’s “Water For Elephants,” Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus,” Hugh Howey’s “Wool,” Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” Jason Hough’s “The Darwin Elevator” and Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder.”
Why not take the NaNo challenge – we just may see your name on the bestsellers list!