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Local writers share their stories during NaNoWriMo

Dec 01, 2017 08:00AM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

Writers at work in Whitmore Library. (Joshua Wood/City Journals)

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By Joshua Wood | joshw@mycityjournals.com    

The clicking of keyboards barely disturbed the silence of the room in the Whitmore Library basement, so one would be hard pressed to see the activity as a group endeavor. But National Novel Writing Month is not your typical activity. The nine writers plugging away at their new projects were brought together by a mass movement that has included hundreds of thousands of writers across the country, and nearly 1,000 in Salt Lake County this year alone.

The goal seems straightforward: write a novel during the month of November. The reality is far more difficult, but the motivation is clear. Accomplished and aspiring writers use National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately called by enthusiasts, to push them toward their goals.

“The commitment to write 50,000 words in a month keeps you motivated,” said local writer Natalie Thompson. She is working on a teen medieval fantasy novel and is participating in NaNoWriMo for the third time.

“You have to have a plan,” Thompson said when asked about tips she can give to new participants. “The first year, I just started writing on November 1, and it’s hard to keep going. If you are writing 50,000 words, you have to think ahead, have your characters thought out.”

NaNoWriMo brings together writers of many genres, levels of experience and personality. Isaac Kenn, one of three local coordinators for the Salt Lake County region of NaNoWriMo, can barely contain his enthusiasm for the event, and for the writing process in general. Kenn helps keep his fellow writers motivated, welcomes new participants and breaks the silence of the writing room with jokes and friendly ribbing of his more seasoned colleagues.

“I would say 90 percent of the people who come to the write-ins are introverts,” Kenn said. “The write-ins give them a really good sense of community and bring a lot of like-minded introverts together. Some people really need the write-ins to get them going.”

Once Kenn gets going, the information keeps coming. He arms himself with information from the national parent organization, National Novel Writing Month, as well as flyers and details about all the writing events that take place throughout the Salt Lake Valley. The calendar on his smartphone is full of opportunities for local writers to join. This year is Kenn’s seventh time participating in NaNoWriMo, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Along with his infectious enthusiasm for writing, Kenn also shares advice for aspiring writers.

“I would say most people participate in NaNoWriMo for one of three main goals,” Kenn said. “Some people have the goal of hitting that 50,000 word mark no matter what. That goal keeps them going and gives them something to aim for. Other people just want to get a rough draft out it so they have something to edit and work with. The third group wants to get a polished first draft. Some of these people will work on that first draft for the rest of the year, and next November’s project will be their second draft.”

The writers like Kenn who have participated in NaNoWriMo more than once are under no illusions. They don’t expect to have a polished final draft of the next great American novel by the end of a single month, but their November project gets them on the road to their goals. 

“The writers have a good camaraderie,” said Whitmore librarian Dan Berube. “Seven or more people come to the write-ins here every week.” This is the second year that Whitmore has hosted NaNoWriMo events, but the Salt Lake County Library System has participated for years. Berube said eight or nine libraries in the County system usually participate.

National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 and became a nonprofit organization sponsoring writing and writing events in 2005. In addition to motivating aspiring writers, NaNoWriMo helps raise funds for the nonprofit’s programs, which included 384,126 participants in its youth programs in 2016. According to NaNoWriMo.org, “Hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s ‘Water for Elephants,’ Erin Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus,’ Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool,’ Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl,’ Jason Hough’s ‘The Darwin Elevator,’ and Marissa Meyer’s ‘Cinder.’”

This November, 993 Salt Lake County NaNoWriMo participants aim to join the ranks of published novelists, including nine dedicated writers working away under the bright lights in the basement of Whitmore Library.

Near the end of their weekly November Wednesday write-in, the group that had silently tapped at their keyboards or scratched away in their notebooks for two solid hours started to unwind, stretch their arms, and smile about the words they had just gotten down. They talk about their progress and tease each other about their genres of choice. The solitary process of writing a novel becomes a group exercise shared by a community of writers who share a love of the art form and an intense 50,000-word goal. Most were doing the same thing last November, and most will back again next year.

“Writing is a skill like everything else,” says Kenn. “If you ever thought you’d be interested and want to be good at writing, sit down and write. Stop being stuck, write. It will turn into workable material. My advice is to find a group of like-minded people at or a bit above your skill level and write.”

National Novel Writing Month gives aspiring writers the motivation and community to do just that.

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