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National Novel Writing Month

This story appears on page 4 of the November 11 edition of Ace.


A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

—Franz Kafka

In 1999 twenty-one writers in the San Francisco area decided to binge–write a novel with little more than curiosity for motivation. In a little over ten years, November has become the internationally recognized National Novel Writing Month. In thirty days, in hundreds of registered locations around the world, writers of all walks do their darndest to “win” by reaching 50K words. Lexington is playing along too and has seventy or so novelists who are, as we speak, probably sitting in front of a screen or a notebook scribbling out the scenes and characters that move them, haunt them, and quite literally, are keeping them up at night.

Amanda Wintz, first time WriMo, understands the lure of being able to turn out a great deal of work in a compressed amount of time, “I just started this year and I don’t understand why I haven’t done this before! For the first time ever I’ve been able to write consistently for days in a row!” Casey Bobel thought her friends were out of their gourds for tackling November, “My friends back home talked about NaNoWriMo a few times and I thought they were crazy to write a novel in a month. Turns out I’m just as crazy…but a good crazy.”

WriMos are ad-writers, high-school and college students, servers, business men and women, gas station attendants, and stay-at-home parents. Some are even juggling more than one job and a family. WriMo, Tori Evans, is bringing her own set of unique life-experiences to the table, “It has helped me break down a few barriers that have kept me from trying anything like this…I love the frenzy that comes with trying to squeeze this into an already hectic life. I have a three year old daughter who is very active. I also take care of my grandmother, who hasn’t been in the greatest of health. I found out in October that I have breast cancer as well, and I will be starting chemo during NaNo.”

The subjects of these novels are as varied as the authors: A psychologist with a serial killer patient, vampires galore, young love, Vikings, faeries, dystopias, Appalachian heroes in post-apocalyptic America banding together to fight demonic incursions, a stocky guy working in a pizza place in Chicago, murder mysteries, fictionalized memoir, and according to Patricia Murphy, her story is quite the mélange, “Murder. Pasta. Police work. Cake. Everyday life. Socks.” So is Tyler Jones’s, “Basically, it’s all a huge homage to Joseph Campbell, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien.” Kendrick VanZant writes to the beat of his own drum while channeling others’, “I am “Frank Herbert meets Tolkien, who is being stabbed by Kafka.”

Most WriMos just want to write something that others would want to read. Both Keri Stevens, who is working on a sequel to her first book from last year, and Nicole Alexakos were rewarded with the ultimate prize from their work last year: publication! Skaught Bowden hopes, “that I will far, FAR exceed the stated goals of NaNoWriMo, and end up with a new story, spun out of whole cloth, that I am genuinely passionate about.” Others want to make sure they don’t fail their classes or other “day job” responsibilities in an attempt to reach the almighty 50K. Still others, like Rachel Bryant, are contending with the content, “I fear I will not want to continue writing because some of the things I write about are ugly and I don’t like to look at those words.”

Many WriMos find a community to write with like Jessica Swafford, “I always feel inspired around other writers. The daily e-mails are great, too. There’s a nice little note telling you that somebody believes your writing has merit and tips to ‘just do it.’” Municipal Liaison, Betsy Willock encourages WriMos to find their stride with real live company, “Write-ins and parties are the fun of NaNo. It is through attending these types of events that NaNo becomes a joy rather than a chore. Not to mention all the word wars and sprints really boost word count. NaNo is all about creative miracles…10K in a day is possible. I know. I have been to the other side of that mountain.”

The majority of WriMos are going friendless, family-less, and some are going shower-less for an entire month to exorcise the stories we were born to tell. Whatever the tactic, Tori affirms that this is not your mama’s comp class, “This is nothing like high-school English where everything had to make sense and follow certain rules. My characters can use contractions (especially ain’t and y’all), and they can randomly find things like killer rubber ducks and ninja monkeys…I love NaNo just for that, and I sometimes wish I could read the rough drafts of others that are written during NaNo. Maybe I’m not the only one who moves a stagnant plot along with an attack of flying bananas or an attack from purple penguins hurling popsicles.”

From the beginning of her book, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron, asserts that the “right to write” is a human birthright, a spiritual dowry, “We should write, above all, because we are writers whether we call ourselves writers or not….” According to Cameron, writing shouldn’t be a pretentious and elitist process. On a primal and cellular level, humans are designed to communicate. If you can write a text message or an email, you have the capacity to write a story. And this month, for National Novel Writing Month, Wrimos becomes a rare community of storytelling mad scientists. This month, we know better than anyone, the truth behind the line from Margaret Atwood’s poem, Spelling,”a word after a word after a word is power.”


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