Originally publilshed Nov. 16, 2015.
One’s a multi-year NaNoWriMo veteran; another is branching out from the academic world.
There are pantsers and posters. Some revel in the speed of a keyboard; others prefer the slower pace of using a pen to put their words on paper.
t’s the words that are the key. The writers are all focused on the end of November, when they want to have put together 50,000 words — words that could become a novel, the beginning of a novel, or just an exercise in finding out what doesn’t work.
The half-dozen aspiring novelists are gathering once a month at the Huntington City-Township Public Library, joining in spirit with scribes around the world who are scribbling furiously to meet the National Novel Writing Month deadline of completing a 50,000-word novel by Nov. 30 at 11:59 p.m.
“I have probably about 44,000,” Kristi Drillien says from behind her laptop during a mid-month writing session at the library.
Drillien is the veteran of the group — a former fan fiction author who’s been doing NaNoWriMo “off and on” for some nine years and now blogs about writing.
She’s the only one of the group who can claim to be a published author — a previous NaNoWriMo entry won her five free printings at a self-publishing company, so she sent her favorite completed fan fiction story off to be printed.
This is the Huntington City-Township Public Library’s first year to host an event for National Novel Writing Month (all the cool people call it NaNoWriMo, spoken very quickly), and the HCTPL’s Anna Brinegar is serving as facilitator. Even she hasn’t been able to fend off the writing bug.
“I just started writing this silly little story,” she says. “It’s about a porcupine that starts a bakery.”
The National Novel Writing Month organization — a non-profit group that sponsors NaNoWriMo and other writing-centric events — says even silly stories are worth writing. It’s been sponsoring the event since 1999; last year, it says it drew in 325,142 participants on six continents.
Over the years, its website says, more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published — including “The Night Circus” (one of this writer’s favorite books ever) and “Water for Elephants,” which became a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.
For Brandon Smith, a Huntington University graduate student, NaNoWriMo is just “a chance to stretch and explore.”
He’s churned out some words in his day, but nothing like the science fiction story he’s now working on.
“I mostly write for school,” he says. “Nothing creative, like a novel is creative.”
He had some ideas in mind when he started writing Nov. 1, he says, but ended up scrapping those ideas.
“I basically started at zero words,” he says. “Now I’m at 2,600.”
Drillien is working along similar lines, adapting some of her previously written fan fiction into “sort of a sci fi/fantasy” novel.
While Smith says his novel writing is “kind of squeezed in around the edges,” fellow NaNoWriMo-er Jeri Davis says she writes constantly. A lot of her work, she says, grows out of the “funny things” her four grandkids say and the life she had as a little girl.
“I have stories going all the time,” says Davis, who spends her days surrounded by books as an HCTPL employee. “Really, it’s just for my grandkids, when they get older.”
She’s done a lot of journaling, she says, and has completed some short stories. Her NaNoWriMo project, she says, “is loosely based on when I was growing up.”
Davis and Julie Theobald, another HCTPL employee, both use sets of colored pens to write longhand in notebooks. Theobald has a role model — her grandmother, who was also her classmate in a Shakespeare course in college.
“She had hundreds of stories published for different Catholic magazines,” Theobald says. “I have them all. I have her typewriter … I haven’t typed on it.”
Theobald says her story, about a woman remembering her younger days, is based on true life.
“But I’ve fictionalized it, so the people I’m writing about won’t kill me,” she says.
Brinegar is the timekeeper for the local group, keeping track of the 25 to 30-minute chunks of intense writing that take place during the weekly sessions at the library. When the time’s up, everybody sits back for some conversation.
“We chat and write, and then we chat and write,” Brinegar says.
“We write a little bit and then we can’t stand the silence, so we talk a little bit,” Smith adds.
“We’re intense when we’re in the middle of it,” says Heather Palmer, Drillien’s sister. “Sometimes our brains need a rest.”
Palmer says she’s using NaNoWriMo to edit a story she wrote previously. Like Drillien, Brinegar and Smith, Palmer — who’s also written some fan fiction — is pounding out her story on a laptop.
“I type extremely fast,” Palmer says. “But sometimes my brain is slower than my fingers.”
“I would rather write by hand,” Drillien says, “but after the first couple of NaNos I found out I could write faster on a laptop.”
Palmer and Drillien advance the theory that there are two kinds of writers — plotters, who plot out the story and the characters before they begin, and pantsers, people who fly by the seat of their pants.
Realistically, Drillien says, most authors use a combination of styles.
“Even if you are a plotter, a lot of times you don’t know what your story is about until the end,” she says. “I have an outline, but I know it will go where it wants to go.”
Starting at the beginning and working toward the end may not be the best way to approach novel writing, Palmer says. “If you feel the notion to write about this scene, just do it,” she says. “You don’t have to write in order.”
Many of the NaNoWriMo writers carry around notebooks, making notes throughout the day.
“My mind is going all day long,” Davis says. “Every once in a while, I’ll jot it down … just little things.”
The most important thing about writing, they all agree, is simply to write. Davis talks about Ernest Hemingway’s writing room, and says she has her own writing corner; Theobald prefers her recliner, or the floor in a corner of a room. Drillien says her blog (kdrillien.wordpress.com) keeps her writing.
“I started the blog to have somewhere to post every day,” she says, who writes every day after her kids go to bed. “It’s kind of my accountability place.”
(For the record, this story was written on a desktop computer, which says the story contains 1,097 words. Not 50,000.)