Alameda resident Lyndsey Davis is a retired Navy chaplain, a mother who teaches home school, an organic gardener and a writer.
Willis Chinn, of Concord, works a 9 to 5 job during the week as an administrative specialist in Hercules and is also working on an English degree.
It should also be noted that—for this month at least—both Chinn and Davis are determined novelists. The Bay Area residents are two of over 167,150 people around the world taking part in November’s National Novel Writing Month, or the more concisely worded NaNoWriMo, in which participants have 30 days to write a 50,000-word work of fiction.
As a journalism student specializing in newspaper reporting, the average story I write is about 600 words, a 1,500-word piece is considered lengthy and the thought of writing an entire novel seems like a truly monumental and very terrifying task. Never mind that there’s an obvious distinction between journalism and fiction (OK, maybe not for all writers), but how do you organize all those words and thoughts into one cohesive narrative without getting lost in all that length?
It takes time and skill, which is why a novelist can spend years on a story, tweaking and revising until they’ve written something they can stand—or until they can’t stand it anymore. But the idea behind this endeavor, which was started in the Bay Area by freelancer Chris Baty, is to forget about editing and just write. The goal is quantity over quality, a concept that makes most writers uncomfortable.
The strategy is explained in NaNoWriMo’s mission statement: “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.”
Davis, who is writing a fantasy-style novel about a group of “tween angels” on a distant planet, says that turning off her internal “edit” button has helped her writing process. “I don’t erase a thing,” she says. “If I think of two ways to write a sentence or a piece of dialog, I write both. Every word counts. I’ll edit later. I write with freedom and speed, unencumbered by the need to be exact, perfect, or brilliant.”
It also helps that NaNoWriMo participants have an an extensive support network in each other, with writers of all ages and experience holding local writing groups from the Bay Area all the way to Latvia and Northern Ireland, as well as 24-hours access to a message board on the group’s website.
Chinn, who says that at 20,119 words into his novel he’s about a day behind on his targeted word count, is writing a story about a girl who goes on a quest to find her sister after losing her entire village, and in the process meets up with a tribe of people who have the power to transform into giant hawks.
Chinn says he would love to have his novel published eventually, with some editing. He says the challenge “has made me more consistent, and [given me] new strategies to use when writing on my own. I’ve met some interesting people as we share this horrible fate between us.”