Tag Archives: National Novel Writing Month

A NaNoWriMo Participant Reflects on His 30-Day Endeavor

After 30 long days and 2,872,682,109 logged words, participants of National Novel Writing Month wrapped up their work on Nov. 30, whether they had finished their 50,000-word novels or not.

Willis Chinn, a NaNoWriMo competitor whom I interviewed in an earlier blog post at the halfway point of the challenge, spent most of his November nights at coffee shops, racing to complete his fantasy novel, “Endangered.” When I last talked to the aspiring novelist he lamented that he was behind on his projected word count, but when I checked in with him at the end of the month, he’d emerged victoriously with a 50,005-word novel. Maybe those five extra words were, “I can’t believe I’m finished!”

Chinn said that by Nov. 29 the act of writing began to feel surreal. “It was this weird rushed moment—I kind of felt detached from the world. All I could think of was, write faster, stick to the script, or Oh crap I left something out, or Oh no I don’t know what to write,” he explained. “I had an overall idea of what I wanted to happen but the book wrote itself.”

But for Chinn, and presumably for many other writers across the world who reached the 50,000-word mark, completing the NaNoWrimo challenge hasn’t translated into a finished novel. “Sadly no, my novel is not at its final resting point,” he said, adding that while finishing the book that he poured so many long and caffeinated hours into is still very much a priority, he’s enjoying the freedom he once felt before November rolled around.

The winners have until June 2011 to put the finishing touches on their novels, at which point the company CreateSpace has offered to print up proof copies of completed novels for writers to promote or simply preserve their projects. Chinn plans to have his novel completed by then.

“I came in as a novice without anything but a simple yet dastardly idea, and to walk out hopefully in June as an actual published author… it’s just wow. I would have never thought,” he gushed. “This simple writing month can be pivotal for any aspiring artist.”

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November is National Novel Writing Month

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.”