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National Novel Writing Month: To Build Without Tearing Down

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Participating in NaNoWriMo

Registration for NaNoWriMo is closed for this year, but interested parties are welcome to support NaNoWriMo by donating on the site, and are encouraged to mark their calendars for next November. 

Local author, Todd Slager (tslager) participates in NaNoWriMo to bring the fun back into writing.

Local author, Todd Slager (tslager) participates in NaNoWriMo to bring the fun back into writing. /Todd Slager

With the recent time change reminding us of how bleak November can get, you might find yourself looking for a diversion to keep your spirits up. So what about that novel you’ve always wanted to write? Why don’t you finally start writing that this month? The only catch being that you have to finish said novel before midnight, Nov. 30.

It’s called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and it’s been happening every November since 1999. Starting with a group of 21 people in San Francisco, it has since exploded into a worldwide challenge, one that includes Grand Rapids and much of West Michigan. The idea is to write a 175-page novel in one month. That’s 50,000 words, the equivalent of 1,667 words a day.

Sound too difficult? Impossible, even? Not to worry, according to the NaNoWriMo Website. “Make no mistake: 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.”

Participants (or wrimos, as they call themselves) sign up online and “win” by reaching the 50,000 word count by deadline. Becoming the author of a completed novel is the prize. The wrimos are separated on the site by regions, and each region has an online forum so those who live in the same area can meet for write-ins and encourage each other along the way.

In 2009, NaNoWriMo had over 165,000 participants, more than 30,000 of whom actually met the word count words before Midnight on November 30. This year it’s estimated that 666 wrimos in West Michigan are participating

Posed with a couple of questions in the Grand Rapids/Ottawa forum about how many times regional wrimos have participated, their progress and why they participate, Gypsywitch was the first to respond.

“This is my fifth year. I've 'won' the past four years. I usually stop within a couple thousand after 50k or just over.” Gypsywitch is the municipal liaison for West Michigan, volunteering to organize the events for wrimos in the area.

At only three days in, wrimos were already responding with word counts of 6,618, 3,440, 3,800 and 3,504 words.

However, not everyone can boast such success. One Grand Rapids wrimo eloquently explained, “It's a very small number. The number of words I have not written is like an avalanche.”

Published authors or not, local wrimos are eager to “win” NaNoWriMo, and for a variety of reasons. Gyspywitch participates because “NaNo is the burst of energy and urgency I need [to] recharge my creative juices for the year. It helps me remember that I CAN make the time I need to write if I really want to.”

Storm, also from Grand Rapids, said it’s “like Christmas when you're a kid, you just can't wait to get started unwrapping the 'present' that will be your finished Novel!”

Another first-time wrimo in Grand Rapids tried his own modified version with a friend a few years back, requiring only 500 words a day. When asked why he is participating now, tslager was brutally honest: “I tend to write too slowly and over-think things as I go. This seemed like a good way to reset the compromise by bringing me way over to the other side of the spectrum. Also, if I like the result, I will have to sharpen up my editing skills, which are lacking... The acknowledgment that what you write will be crap - because no one can write well at this pace - brought the performance anxiety down to fun levels... And since writers can be such a stuffy, self-important people, I think we need as many reminders as possible that writing is an action, not a, like, existential quest.”

All wrimos take part in NaNoWriMo for their own reasons, be it for a challenge, or to sharpen their writing skills. The most common answer for why wrimos do it is simply for fun. Take a look at some of the local wrimo’s basic plots:

  • Gypsywitch - “a healer that is forced to raise a young girl from the dead and loses her own life in the process.”
  • syntruth - “a blind man left far from home, in a forest, by his family who no longer want to care for his needs. Left to die, the young man survives and meets a young goblin girl who, herself an outcast from her tribe, takes him to her grandmother, a shaman, and there things get interesting as this shaman gives him a very special gift of spirit sight -- but it comes with a price.” - 
  • _ML_ - “Grandma had affairs with married men when she was married, the granddaughter finds out now . . .”
  • tslager - “A girl is found dead in the woods near Chicago in 1913 and it is not clear if it is a murder or a suicide. The story follows the father and his life around that time. Parallel stories are also told of the children and grand children of those involved in the events that open the novel, but not in the grandchild-discovers-the-truth kind of way. More in a family-history-is-a-bitch kind of way.” 
  • EvaJupiterSkies - “it's 1998, almost New Years, and in China, the Chinese Zodiac warriors, under a faction of the Chinese government, are getting set to launch into cyberspace to take over the international community via records kept electronically, and over the internet. Before this can happen though, something sparks a mysterious influence that singles out twelve warriors for the world, from the Western Zodiac. Grappling with their newfound destiny, and fledgling powers, can the Western Zodiac warriors pursue the Chinese Zodiac warriors, and stop them from taking over the world via cyberspace in the name of China?”
  • Storm - “Mafia doesn't like how the Government is running the city, so decide to take it over - or at least attempt to - from the corrupt legal system they see it under.”

Disclosure: This article is written by Lorena Slager, who signed up for NaNoWriMo but hasn't found time to write a word. She is also sister of referenced author, Todd Slager.

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