December 9, 2015
No one, perhaps, was more conscious of the speed in which November flew by than the writers engaged in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). With the goal of reaching 50,000 words in just 30 days, participants had to create a solid plan of attack in order to achieve a creative win.
Of the more than 325,000 participants in 2014, 81,311 were students and educators in the Young Writers Program. According to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit National Novel Writing Month, many of those participants started that November thinking of themselves in the role they normally inhabited: auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, students, teachers and so many other occupations. Yet, they ended the month as novelists.
Some of the most popular novels of recent years began as NaNoWriMo projects, including Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” and Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” to name but a few of the 300 traditionally published books. A full list of traditionally and self-published NaNoWriMo authors can be found on the their website.
Many at SNHU engage in NaNoWriMo. Early in November, we had an opportunity to check in with several writers to learn what they aspired to by month’s end. Let’s see where they landed.
SNHU alumna Jo-Anne Lucas ’15, who graduated with her MA in English & Creative Writing, went for the win, hoping she’d be able to live up to her goal of reaching 50,000 words before Thanksgiving. Coming in at 50,246 words, Lucas finished early, although she had a bit of trepidation at the beginning.
“As I started, I did worry that I was not going to have enough to say,” she said. One Sunday, as she was struggling with her writing while at Barnes & Noble, she decided to look for some inspiration.
“I went to the self-help department and found books about the topic I was writing about,” said Lucas. “My a-ha moment became the ending to my story.” As for what she’d tell others considering NaNoWriMo in 2016, she said to feel the fear and do it anyway — to just write, write, write. “You never know when your a-ha moment will happen.”
What’s next for Lucas? She plans to continue writing about topics that will help people who have gone through challenging life situations, focusing on the areas in which there are not a lot of books or resource articles available at present.
This was Lauren Wood’s first attempt at NaNoWriMo, and while she didn’t quite reach the 50,000-word goal, what she did accomplish was pretty incredible. Wood is currently pursuing an online master’s in English & creative writing with a concentration in screenwriting. She had hoped to complete her novel during November and turn it into a screenplay eventually.
Coming in at nearly 33,000 words, Wood’s focusing on completing her novel in the months ahead and then pitching it to publishers. “I just took Contemporary Writers and Publishing here at SNHU and it taught me how to compose a book proposal and what to do with it — talk about perfect timing!”
Time-challenged throughout November, Wood said she was so busy that when she did finally find time to sit down and write, she struggled with writer’s block. She did her best to combat this issue by brainstorming and scheduling time to write.
For those considering NaNoWriMo in the future, Wood said, “Don’t let yourself get behind and don’t procrastinate. Make it a habit to write at least something each day!”
Margaret McNellis ’15 isn’t quite sure if she hit 50,000 words, but she is pleased with the progress she made on her book. “I wrote a lot by hand and made it to around 24,000 before I switched offline,” she said. “So I don’t have a final word count for the month.”
Part of her book includes a shift in narrator. “Getting into her mind involved going offline so the writing was a little slower than on the computer, but I have no regrets. I like the way things are going,” said McNellis. When it comes to writing historical fiction, it helps her to write by hand, especially since the characters she’s writing about have never encountered a computer.
When it came to strategies throughout the month, McNellis first tackled how to get into her new narrator’s head. “My main strategy was to reread some of the letters she would have received from her brother,” she said. She also relied on a trick that has worked well in the past, turning off the lights and lighting a candle, and writing with a dip pen and inkwell for a while. While she said it’s slow going, it does help her create a mood to get into a mind-set that very well could have existed 200 years ago.
What’s most important, however, is to write daily, McNellis said. “In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you hit 50,000 words,” she said. “Winning is fun, but nothing horrible will happen to you if you don’t win NaNoWriMo. Whatever your word count ends up being, it’s more than you had on October 31.”
For those who do want to win — and McNellis said especially if these writers are after one of the discounted products or services offered to winning participants — she suggests word wars as the best tool to help. “These friendly competitions seek to help writers put down as many words as they can in a confined period of time, usually less than an hour or even as short as 10 minutes,” she said. “Participants can often find word wars through their regions or by following the official NaNoWriMo Twitter account (@nanowrimo).”
McNellis is taking a break from her book during December, but she’ll still be writing every day. She’s putting together a Flash Fiction anthology called “31 Stories in 31 Days,” which will be available for sale this month. She’s also building a new website, with communities for writers, called Paper Mill Lane.
“I will be working on the inaugural issue of The Magical Past, a literary fiction and craft e-zine geared toward the historical fantasy genre,” said McNellis. “The first issue will be free and available on Paper Mill Lane in early 2016.”
While Sylvia Stein '15 did not win NaNoWriMo this year, she still felt like a winner because she was writing and created another novel in her ongoing series. “My final word count was 35,000 and for someone like me, who has a very busy and hectic schedule as a mom, wife and writer, I thought I did very well,” said Stein.
Her biggest challenge was finding the time to write. She was able to squeeze in time, but as the mother of three, Stein’s family responsibilities were often tough to balance with her desire to focus on NaNoWriMo. “I was able to schedule time when the kids were in school and when my other commitments and work took over that time, I would write in the later hours and the weekend,” she said.
She advises others with an interest in pursuing NaNoWriMo to create an outline for their anticipated work, as it helps the process considerably, and to just write, regardless of time constraints.
Stein is currently working on an anthology, an upcoming audio book and collaborative projects with other authors. She plans to continue work on her 2014 NaNoWriMo project and follow through on what she has written thus far for this year’s NaNoWriMo.
What are your writing goals? Learn more about SNHU’s online bachelor’s and master’s in creative writing programs and how they can help you succeed in achieving your own creative win.
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