Novel Writing Month:
• Takes place every November.
• Challenges writers to produce a 50,000-word novel in one month.
• NaNoWriMo: More than 90 published novels began as during the annual event, including No. 1 New York Times best-seller “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen.
• For more information, visit www.nanowrimo.org.
A typical workflow for a National Novel Writing Month participant goes like this: Get an idea for a novel, then sit down Nov. 1 and begin writing.
And write. And write. And write until you have 50,000 words and a complete novel. The sole caveat: You’ve got only 30 days to do it.
Craig resident Bethany Longwell, 20, took on that challenge for the first time this year.
She’s in good company. More than 250,000 people around the globe — “armed only with their wits, the vague outline of a story and a ridiculous deadline”— are participating in the annual November event, organizers of the event, commonly known as NaNoWriMo, reported in a release.
The deadline may seem daunting, but in Longwell’s eyes, it’s a blessing, albeit a demanding one.
“I love to write,” she said, “but I usually have difficulty just sitting down and writing large amounts of words. And I felt like this challenge would really get me going and really get something written.”
Ready, set, write
The history of NaNoWriMo goes back to 1999, when freelance writer Chris Baty and “20 other over-caffeinated yahoos” launched the first event in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the event’s website.
Since then, it has involved thousands of participants and, the release stated, has jumpstarted more than 90 published novels. It also was the starting ground for Sara Gruen’s No. 1 New York Times bestseller, “Water For Elephants,” which was adapted into a film this year.
Until five years ago, however, a challenge like this was far from Longwell’s mind.
Until five years ago, she didn’t even like to write, she said.
That changed when she was 15 and her mother asked her to write a poem on any scripture she chose. Longwell chose Psalm 23, she said, and was impressed by what she produced.
“And then after that, I started writing more,” she said. “And when I got my idea for my first book, I just went for it.”
That book is “still a work in progress,” she said, yet she went on to self-publish a collection of poems titled “Wings of the Wind: Not Alone” in 2010.
When she got wind of NaNoWriMo through the website www.christianwriters.com, she decided to give it a try.
The novel Longwell is working on for the challenge centers around a young man who is disabled and a young woman who’s preparing to make a marriage of convenience but instead “she finds herself falling for this guy in the wheelchair,” she said.
This month, Longwell has spent anywhere between two and six hours a day writing on average, she said, normally in the morning before she goes to work and again at night.
Her goal is to punch out 2,000 words a day, “just to make sure that I stay ahead,” she said.
That her characters seem to take on wills of their own doesn’t simplify the process.
“Sometimes I come up with this character and I think that they’re going to act a certain way, and then they change the way they act,” she said.
Longwell has learned that this is a normal part of writing fiction.
“It’s a surprise, but if I changed it, it wouldn’t be real,” she said.
Crash course in literary life
Trying to produce a novel in a month has taught Longwell a few things about writing.
Lesson one: Sometimes, you just have to put it all on the page and leave the tweaking for later.
She plans to edit her novel once the month is over, she said, but for now she’s focused solely on writing.
To churn out 50,000 words in a month, “You have to push down your inner editor and just crush him down, don’t let him say anything,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll be stuck at a place, and it’s easier to get writer’s block then.”
Lesson two: You don’t have to write alone.
Longwell meets regularly with a NaNoWriMo group online, where she finds support and the occasional gentle nudge to get back to her work in progress.
“It does (help me) because … if I’m behind on my word count, they’ll tell me to go write,” she said. “And if I’m not, they just encourage me.”
The third lesson has probably been in progress since Longwell made her first foray into the literary world.
It’s that she can write, and she enjoys doing it.
“It sounds weird, but it’s like I know these people and they’re my friends,” she said, referring to her characters. “And, while I have friends, of course, in the real world, it’s like these are people that I get to know better all the time and I get to choose how much time I get to spend with them.”
The words and stories don’t elude Longwell anymore. Instead, they’re clamoring to be written.
“I just enjoy writing their stories,” she said, adding, “Their story is in me, and it has to get out.”
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