Write a novel in 30 days

For those people who have always wanted to write a novel, but didn't try because they thought it had to be good, November is their lucky month. It's National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a low-stakes competition for anyone who has thought about starting a novel but didn't, or who has started several times but never followed through. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to pen a 50,000-word novel during a single month, starting from scratch and reaching "The End" by Nov. 30.

The event was started by Bay Area writer Chris Baty in 1999 and has grown from 21 participants the first year to over 200,000 participants and more than 37,000 "winners" last year. To win, writers have to make the 50,000 word mark and post their work on the website before midnight on the 30th. There are no judges, no prizes and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them. Winners don't get prizes or money or a contract, but on Dec. 1, they wake up knowing they are novelists.

Will they have written great novels? For the most part, no, but who cares? What matters is quantity, not quality. Because one only has a month to write, there is no time to get bogged down in editing or reworking passages and tweaking chapters. The point is to liberate writers from procrastination and fear, to help them discover a creativity and drive they maybe didn't know they had.

I admit I have joined NaNoWriMo before but never finished or even come close. This year, I'm doing it again. I only have a vague idea about my story, but I do have founder Chris Baty's small and funny book, "No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days." The book offers playful tips on getting started, real-life strategies from previous winners and a week-by-week guide to the writing process, including pep talks and exercises. For example, he urges readers to avoid self-editing as that takes away precious time and words. He also suggests maintaining the momentum by keeping your story a mystery to those around you.

Local NaNoWriMo communities meet in person and online to encourage and support one another. The Rogue Valley group has 383 members and the Ashland NaNoWriMo Facebook page so far has 32 participants who cheer each other on and plan coffee-fueled writing jam sessions. Since Ashland is chock-full of aspiring writers, the local contingent will be quite a force.

Dave Harvey, a retired teacher in Talent, has done NaNoWriMo twice before and even completed one of his novels. He is eagerly anticipating this year's event. "Yes, I will begin next Tuesday, only 4 days until I can legally begin." Harvey added that working on both novels taught him a lot. "I'm sorry I hadn't written a novel when I was teaching English. It has deeply changed the way I read novels. Now I'm conscious of the authors having had to make choices at various points in their stories." Ashland writer Amy Miller is going to give it her best shot. "I've written one novel already and had no luck getting it published, so it's daunting to think of starting one all over," she said. I've joined NaNoWriMo twice before, but always petered out after a few days, work or life always intervened. But I think even a few days of it is good, if it gets you writing," she added.

For all the information you need to get started, and to join the local chapter, visit the NaNoWriMo website at www.nanowrimo.org. There's nothing to lose, but so much satisfaction and fun to be gained in the trying.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.

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