National Novel Writing Month: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published October 28, 2019

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FARMINGTON HILLS — As November approaches, so does the 20th year of National Novel Writing Month — or NaNoWriMo — a monthlong endeavor that challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days spanning November.

That’s the 1,667 words per day.

For the seventh consecutive year, the Farmington Public Library branches will host weekly write-in sessions where writers can find a quiet place to craft their novel, participate in writing challenges — like word sprints or word wars — and drink as much caffeine as they need to fuel their creative process. The write-ins are conducted in partnership with the national NaNoWriMo nonprofit’s Detroit branch.

The Main Library branch will host weekly write-ins 7-8:45 p.m. on Tuesdays. Write-ins at the Farmington Branch will be open 2-4 p.m. Sundays.

Since the monthlong challenge’s inception in 1999, NaNoWriMo Executive Director Grant Faulkner said, the viral challenge has “definitely grown like gangbusters.”

In 1999, NaNoWriMo had 21 participants. In 2017, the nonprofit had 306,230 participants on its website alone, which doesn’t include several others who take part without officially signing up on the site.

So how does one find success in this monthlong writing endeavor?

“I think it’s important to come up with a game plan,” Faulkner said. “I think (for) most people it helps to think about how you’re going to open up time to write 1,667 words a day. … It’s important for people to know how long it takes them to write that much and then really scrutinize their lives. How long do they spend on social media? How much time does it take to eat meals? … A time management strategy is really important to success.”

Faulkner also encourages people to not let the “muddy middle” — weeks two and three, when they might find the words aren’t coming to them as easily as in week one — discourage them from continuing.

Michael Zadoorian, one of Michigan’s 2019 Notable Authors for his book “Beautiful Music,” agreed, adding that persistence is the key to completing a novel. The problem he often sees with writers is that they write a chapter and then begin to focus too intently on trying to perfect that chapter before moving on.

“It’s kind of a trap, because you’re basically rewriting the first chapter of nothing. Unless you get to the last chapter, it’s not really a book. It’s not a novel,” he said. “Just keep writing. Know that it’s not going to be great, but by the end of it you’ll have a greater understanding of your story and what you set out to do.”

For those who might not have a specific story they want to tell or a topic they want to explore, Zadoorian suggests that people look “close to home.”

“As a friend of mine once said, ‘When you write a novel, you find out what your obsessions are.’ I think that’s a good way of looking at it. What are the things that obsess you?” he said. “You know what you love more than anything or what you’re really interested in. That’s where you might find your topic, your idea, your story.”

Farmington Community Library Teen Librarian Jennie Willard, who helps organize the library’s write-ins, said those weekly events are also a good place for writers to collaborate, bounce ideas off each other and ask questions, especially for newcomers. It also helps keep writers accountable, she said.

“If somebody has a question or wants to brainstorm, they can talk with the other people,” she said. “Having that group that you kind of know and will recognize you and expect to see you (on) a Sunday or Tuesday gives you that.”

“People are generally more creative when they can bounce ideas off each other, even when they write together in silence. That community aspect is really important to writers’ success,” Faulkner added.

After NaNoWriMo ends, Zadoorian said, it’s wise to not run off right away and try to get the manuscript published. He advises writers to read through it again, sit with it and ask trusted friends to help them peer edit.

He also advises writers, especially first-timers, to do their homework when selecting a publisher, because there are many who like to prey on new writers, who will publish anything just for more money.

For anyone who doesn’t reach the word limit by Nov. 30, Faulkner said it’s nothing to apologize about.

“Participation for participation’s sake is important as well. That’s why we encourage people who may have really fallen behind to not give up and keep writing,” he said. “This (month) is all about creativity and making it a priority in your life, not just in November, but beyond, so you can keep that momentum and keep writing after November.

“I think there’s a lot of ways to have success in NaNoWriMo.”

For more information on NaNoWriMo, visit nanowrimo.org, and to learn more about the Farmington Public Library’s weekly write-in sessions, visit farmlib.org/nano.

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