You wouldn't run a marathon without training for it — well, you could, but you run a serious risk of petering out a mile or two into the race.
It's the same story for some of the participants in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which returns this November. You can start on Nov. 1 by firing up your laptop and just starting to write, figuring that if you pound out 1,667 words every day you'll cross the 50,000-word threshold by the 30th.
Or you can do a little bit of work beforehand to come up with, you know, a plot and characters. This is not considered cheating under NaNoWriMo rules, as long as you don't start writing before Nov. 1.
This is the 20th year for NaNoWriMo. Last year, organizers say, nearly 400,000 people worldwide registered to participate at the event's website and 58,000 met that 50,000-word goal.
The event also attracts dozens of people throughout the mid-valley — and some of them are now planning their novels. Area libraries have scheduled NaNoWriMo events — on Saturday, for example, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library held a plot-planning party for people who want a bit of a safety net in place before Nov. 1. A kickoff party is scheduled at the Corvallis library at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. And that library is setting aside every Saturday in November from 2 to 5 p.m. for writers to gather to work.
As for the main question — why do it in the first place? — area NaNoWriMo veterans have a ready answer: "Bragging rights!" wrote Rosiee Thor in answer to an email question. "Not everyone can say they've written a novel, but after November, you can!"
Added Lisa Sarter, another NaNoWriMo veteran: "Just about everyone has dreamt about writing a book, so why not just try it?"
The two had advice for rookies trying their first NaNoWriMo: Said Thor: "For the newcomer to NaNoWriMo, I recommend knowing the following before you start: Who is your main character? What do they want and why do they want it? What's in their way? What happens if they fail? In my opinion, once you know those four things, you have a story. ... The rest you can fill in as you go."
Sarter added that NaNoWriMo participants have two basic options: "You can put in as much detail as you want and figure the whole thing out ... or you can fly by the seat of your pants and wing the entire thing."
Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall; in the days when I ran marathons, it typically came around mile 20. I asked if there was a "wall" of sorts during NaNoWriMo.
"For me it's always somewhere in the second week," Thor said. "I can usually make it to 25K words without too much trouble, but then the plot starts to get complicated and pieces aren't fitting the way I want them to. If I can make it past the halfway point, it's pretty much smooth sailing from there."
But don't talk about the wall with Sarter: "I tend to finish my 50K within the first two weeks. (I think my shortest was seven days.) ... I tend to sprint through the whole thing and then try to encourage my friends and help them work out their plot issues."
The encouragement Sarter gives to friends illuminates another valuable aspect of NaNoWriMo: It helps to create a supportive community that writers, engaged in a solitary profession, often don't enjoy. Thor said she met her best friend, Colleen Crook, during NaNoWriMo, and has seen many strong friendships form during the month. And Sarter appreciates being able to reach out for immediate help when necessary: "It was good to be in a group of writers so when my story stalled I could get input and ideas to work around it immediately: 'Hey, what would make my main character leave a room?' — it was good to have the immediate feedback without people looking at you like you're strange."
Thor and Crook led that plot-planning party on Saturday, and also are serving this year as the municipal liaisons for NaNoWriMo for the Albany-Corvallis region. (You can contact them through the website nanowrimo.org.)
On Saturday, the two bounced through the basics of the event for about a dozen writers, talking about classic plot structures, dreaming up plot twists and even listing tricks to pad the word count (hint: repetitive dialogue). It was fun to watch. But there were still reminders during the session about what a solitary profession writing can be: At one point, Crook suggested the participants, scattered among a number of tables, move closer together.
But here's the plot twist: Nobody left the room. (mm)