Writers are challenged to complete 50,000 words in 30 days
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11/11/12 at 9:46 AM
The time has come to pass around the Box of Doom.
Each of the dozen or so people gathered on this Saturday morning in the meeting room of the Jenks Library reaches a tentative, questing hand in the box - and takes out a stick. Some are green, some are yellow, some are red. And on each stick is a number.
"For those of you who are new to this," said Michelle Pierce, as she goes around the room with the box, "the number on the stick you choose is the number of words you have to write in the next 30 minutes."
Green sticks have numbers such as 800. One participant picked a red stick, with just more than twice that much - 1,604, or just about the minimum daily requirement of words needed to complete the challenge of the National Novel Writing Month.
Conceived in 1999 by California freelance writer Chris Baty, the National Novel Writing Month began with a handful of friends challenging each other to write 50,000 words - the length of a short novel, such as "The Great Gatsby" - in 30 days.
Twenty-one people took part in that first event, with six completing the challenge. The 2011 NaNoWriMo, as it has come to be called, attracted more than 250,000 participants around the world.
The gathering this particular Saturday morning at the Jenks Library was a "write-in" organized by the Tulsa NaNoWriMo region's municipal liaisons. It's a chance for NaNoWriMo participants to come together to work together toward their common goal of churning out 50,000 words during November.
"Churning out" is a key phrase, as the whole idea of NaNoWriMo is to spur an aspiring writer on by focusing strictly on getting the proper number of words onto the screen or onto the page.
"It's all about quantity, not quality," said Rebekah Loper, who shares with Pierce the role of NaNoWriMo municipal liaison for Tulsa. "You can worry about quality later. That's what revisions are for."
As municipal liaisons, Pierce and Loper arrange all public events (kick-off parties, weekly write-ins), monitor the various social media outlets (Facebook, website, a chat room), and create items that add to the ambiance of a literary get-together, such as the miniature graveyard populated with small tombstones bearing the names of characters killed off during a given write-in event.
"Basically, we're the cheerleaders for the group," Pierce said.
Given that, according to the NaNoWriMo site, more than 1,100 people have signed on as Tulsa Region participants that can be a lot of cheering.
"Not everyone wants to take part in the public things," Loper said. "We'll have as many as 30 or so people come to the write-ins. I'd say that, in the course of a month, we interact with about 100 or so participants."
For Chris Reader, all of this is new.
"This is the first time I've been to one of these write-ins," he said. "And it's only my first year to do NaNoWriMo - well, to do all of it. I started late, and then my laptop crashed and I lost everything I had been working on."
The novel he is working on will be a retelling of "Grimm's Fairy Tales" - a thick volume sits on the table next to Reader's laptop. "I'm going to be using a lot of the stories," he said. "Maybe it will turn into a series."
However, Reader's goal isn't necessarily literary stardom. His dream job is to be an editor for a publishing house. "I thought it would be good to try and get my story out on paper, so I would better understand what an author I might editor has gone through," he said.
Marshall Estes is another newcomer to NaNoWriMo - especially to the "No" portion of the nickname.
"This will be my first time to try and write a long-form piece of fiction," he said. "I had a friend in college who did it, and he encouraged me to try."
Jae Chastain was encouraged by her father to sign up for NaNoWriMo. Last year - her first - she got about 37,000 words written before Nov. 30. She already had more than 3,000 words done on this year's project after just a couple of days.
"I'm still not sure what it's about," she said. "But it's kind of along the lines of fantasy."
Meg Purdue is a member of several local writers clubs, but it took a friend to "talk me into doing this," she said. She has plans to spend November working on what she calls "a Gothic feminist, silly ghost story - think Tina Fey meets 'Scooby Doo.' "
"The clubs are a bit more formal and focused," she said. "The emphasis is on helping you improve as a writer, of finding ways to get your work before the public. I attended the Nimrod writers conference last month, and one thing that struck me was an agent who said that there are a lot of things out there that are publishable - it's just that there are no shortcuts to getting published."
This is Billy Vincent's second year to attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge. He got about 13,000 words done last year before a computer virus put an end to his unfinished manuscript.
Billy has published some short stories, but said, "It's always been my dream to walk into a library or a bookstore and see my name on the spine of a book."
National Novel Writing Month is not necessarily about crafting a finished work of literature. It is supposed to serve as a jump-start to one's creativity, by not allowing one time to over-think or be hypercritical about each word.
"I first was introduced to the Box of Doom in 2009," Pierce said. "The first challenge I had was for 1,000 words in 30 minutes, and I said there was no way I could do that. But when that 30 minutes was up, I had 1,150 words written."
Loper first took part in NaNoWriMo in 2003 and continued to participate each subsequent year.
"And it wasn't until 2009 that I won - that I reached the 50,000-word goal," she said. "That always kind of encourages the new people - they don't feel so bad or intimidated when they know it took me six years of trying."
Still, the law of averages would lead one to assume that out of 250,000-plus people worldwide writing away furiously for 30 days, there must be a few manuscripts that don't - to use Estes' phrase - "make you cringe at every word."
According to the NaNoWriMo website, more than 100 novels that began as the feverish outpourings of distant Novembers have been published commercially. A few - Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants," Erin Morgenstern's "Night Circus" - have become best-sellers.
Loper knows of four Tulsa participants whose NaNoWriMo manuscripts are soon to be published: Tim Frayser, whose novel "Memoirs of an Ex-Zombie" will be available in January; Jean Marie Bauhaus, whose self-published "Dominion of the Damned" recently was released; Zane Cameron Gentry, whose novel "Order of the Stone" will be out in December from Tate Publishing; and Ryan Dunlap's "The Wind Merchant," which is now available.
Dunlap is a somewhat unusual member of the Tulsa NaNoWriMo group. For one thing, although he is a native of Tulsa, he doesn't live here anymore. For another, he wrote his book to help finance a movie he had made.
Dunlap wrote, directed and starred in a feature-length thriller titled "Greyscale," which was filmed in and around Tulsa in 2008 and 2009. When some professional setbacks meant he wouldn't have the funds to complete the film, he decided to turn an idea he had for some time into "a story that outsourced all of the visual effects, casting and acting to the imagination of the reader," he said in an email interview.
"I went into NaNoWriMo for the structure of keeping motivated by linking up with old friends from Tulsa who were also participating," Dunlap said. "The Tulsa NaNo group was very welcoming, and I'm proud to say that I hit my 50,000-word mark over the long Thanksgiving weekend with my family back in Tulsa."
He then created a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise money to cover the costs of self-publishing the novel and finishing the film.
"I think a lot of people wondered why I wrote an entire novel to come up with the funds to finish 'Greyscale,' " Dunlap said, "but I couldn't have run a Kickstarter solely for the film by giving away the DVD as a backer reward because it would have ruined any chances of getting serious distribution for the film."
The interest in Dunlap's project was such that he's spending this month working on a sequel to "The Wind Merchants." And he's writing this book the way he wrote his first - by hand, using a fountain pen and a leather-bound book.
"The handwritten method forces me to slow down and give more thought to my words, rather than allowing myself to mar the page by constantly crossing out and revising," he said. "It forces me to always move forward, knowing that editing is for the next draft. "
Tulsa-area writers groups
TULSA NIGHTWRITERS: The city’s oldest
writer’s group has been around for almost 60
years, to support and encourage published
writers and aspiring writers. Meetings are 7
p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at the
Martin East Regional Library, 2601 S. Garnett
Road. Webpage: tulsaworld.com/nightwriters
TULSA AREA WRITERS WORKSHOP: Founded in
2008, TAWW is made up of published and
want-to-be published authors working in a
variety of genres. Meetings are twice a month
on Tuesdays, though locations and times vary.
CRITICAL INK: Founded in 2010 as Tulsa
Fantasy, Horror, and Sci Fi Writers, this group
specializes in writers working in all genres.
Meetings are twice a month on Tuesdays; locations
and times vary. Webpage: tulsaworld.com/criticalink
FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN WRITERS: Founded
in 1979 to “equip and encourage writers to follow
their God-given dreams of setting words
to paper.” Meetings are 7 p.m. the second
Tuesday of the month at Kirk of the Hills, 4102
E. 61st St. Website: tulsaworld.com/fcw.
OKLAHOMA WRITERS FEDERATION, INC.: A
statewide organization of writers and writers
groups (Tulsa Nightwriters is an affiliate) that
“seeks to coordinate and encourage professional
writing within and without its organization
and promote the recognition of outstanding
contributions to the written language.”
Conducts statewide writing contests and
holds an annual writers conference. Website:
SOUTH TULSA WRITERS: Founded in 2008, this
group is open to all ages and disciplines, from
poets to bloggers, offering discussions on
topics ranging from the challenges of getting
published to the niceties of grammar. Meetings
are every other Thursday at 7 p.m. at the
Woodland Plaza Barnes & Noble, 8620 E. 71st
St. Website: tulsaworld.com/stwriters.
Original Print Headline: Novel pursuit
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Jessica Cox (foreground) and co-organizer, or municipal miaison, Michelle Pierce write with several others during a National Novel Writing Month challenge at the Jenks Library. The challenge involves attempting to write a 50,000-word manuscript during the 30 days of November. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
Chris Reader of Mounds draws inspiration from Grimm's fairy tales for his work in a group writing session for a National Novel Writing Month challenge at the Jenks Library. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
A "dare" is handed out to anyone up for the challenge as they write during the National Novel Writing Month challenge. According to the NaNoWriMo website, more than 1,100 people have signed on as Tulsa Region participants in the challenge. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World