Local support bolsters month-long writing challenge
BY ELIZABETH NOLAN
Published authors and people who are just launching into their first major project are coming together this month as they attempt the ambitious feat of producing 50,0000 words in just 30 days.
The tongue-twisting NaNoWriMo con- test — short for National Novel Writing Month — challenges would-be, should-be and actual authors to dive into their craft and head for the finish line without worry- ing about the finer details of polishing and editing. While the only prize awarded is a congratulations of accomplishment, even those who don’t reach the goal can find value in participation.
“It’s a lot of work in a short time, but sometimes having a large target helps with motivation,” said Phil Rees, a Salt Spring resident who is attempting the challenge for the third time in the past five years.
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 as a way to encourage people to get writing. Now in its 16th year, the contest is expected to attract 400,000 participants from across six continents. Benefits of registering mean participants can track their daily progress and join forums to get peer advice on things like difficult plot points or character development. The NaNoWriMo organization also publishes pep talks by established writers, some of whom have produced books that started out as seed ideas in the contest. These include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Mor- genstern, among 250 titles.
Aside from offering online support, an important aspect is the in-person community building that arises through regionally organized events. Islanders have the opportunity to do this at home this year thanks to Wendy Beasley, a published author and NaNoWiMo participant who has signed on to be the regional volunteer mentor. Beasley intends to spend this November working on the third book in what will be a seven-part series.
“I think there’s a lot of distraction, and when you have something formalized like NaNo it’s much easier to say to people, ‘I’m incommunicado for the month of November,’” Beasley said. “I think that’s probably one of the things that really helps.” She also cites the contest’s online word count app as an advantage.
“That word thing is monumental, because if nothing else, you compete with yourself,” she said.
Rees has been another public face of NaNoWriMo this year, offering a technical workshop on some of the useful software writing tools available. He has been active in a Salt Spring poetry group for the past year, but with two small children at home has found it difficult to tackle other formats.
“My aim has always been to move from poetry to short stories and then on to a novel, but NaNoWriMo has given me the chance to go straight into a novel-length piece,” he said.
An impressive 61 local writers have signed on to the challenge using Salt Spring as their home base. But as Beasley points out, there could easily be twice that num- ber who haven’t registered.
How to approach the exercise is up to the individual, although Rees said there are generally two categories of participants: “plotters,” who have meticulously worked out their structure ahead of time, and “pantsers,” who have earned their name for flying by the seat of their pants and going straight into the event without much preparation.
Although the official title contains the
word “novel,” writing fiction isn’t actually a requirement. Several people who turned up for a kick-off party at the Salt Spring Public library on Saturday named memoir and non-fiction as their genres.
“I think it’s mostly about getting people to develop the discipline of writing con- stantly and consistently,” said Rees.
Rees has his novel’s beginning and end- ing written, but will spend the month work- ing out the how the rest of the story unfolds. He’s feeling positive about his third attempt at the challenge, both because Beasley has stepped up as the regional volunteer and because the new library offers a lovely work environment.
“We’ve now got a focal point that lets us know we’re not alone,” he said, adding local events offer camaraderie and a touch of rivalry, both of which can spur on the word counts.
The local group will be offering a weekly write-in at the library on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Beasley said there is also an opportunity to establish a permanent writing group after the contest is finished.
For more information, visit the website at http://nanowrimo.org. Information on the regional group can be found on the site under Canada: British Columbia: The Islands.