You know that story idea that’s been scratching at the back of your mind for years? The one you’ve had so long it seems like a memory?
It’s time to turn that into a novel.
November is National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” as its organizers call it. Described as the world’s largest writing challenge and nonprofit literary crusade, more than 200,000 people set out to become novelists at midnight on Nov. 1.
The goal is to produce, from scratch, a 50,000-word work of fiction in 30 days. There are no prizes for “winning,” and there are no judges. Participants upload their manuscripts to the NaNoWriMo website for validation, but the entries are deleted from the server before anyone reads them.
The ridiculous deadline will cause participants to lose sleep, forgo chores, ignore their families and neglect their appearance.
But it will force them to write, rapidly and without fear of failure.
“The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” said Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and executive director. “When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both.”
According to Nancy Smith, NaNoWriMo community liaison, about 1,800 Oklahomans signed up for the challenge as of Oct. 28, including 665 in the Oklahoma City metro.
According to organizers, more than 500 regional volunteers in more than 90 countries will hold write-ins, hosting authors in coffee shops, bookstores and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment and surprisingly effective peer pressure, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience.
Oklahoma is divided into three regions: Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Stillwater. Each is headed by a volunteer “municipal liaison.”
Oklahoma City has two such leaders, including Ilya McVey. He organizes meet-ups and offers support to NaNoWriMo writers in the Norman area and rural southern Oklahoma.
It’s the support group aspect that helps propel writers past the finish line, he said.
“I think if you try to go on your own without anybody’s help, it can get really hard,” McVey said.
A former merchant marine deck officer, he works nearly 11 hours per day, four days a week for a company that routes ships. Between his work, home life and co-ML duties, McVey said it’s hard for him to achieve the flat goal of 1,667 words per day, the rate needed to reach the finish line. He said he strives to write 2,500 words on days off and 1,000 words during workdays.
He moved to Oklahoma from the Bay Area, where NaNoWriMo began in 1999, but he didn’t begin participating in the event until three years ago. He failed to finish his first year (20,000 words after starting late), but completed the past two. This year’s effort is a science-fiction piece.
The most important thing is to resist the temptation to edit yourself during the competition, McVey said.
“The goal in ‘NaNo’ is not to write a finished product. The goal is to produce. It’s all about output,” he said. “There’s a certain quality in quantity. That’s the idea. That’s why perfectionists have a hard time in here. They’ll never make it because it will take them too long.”
McVey said he gave one of his novels to a friend as a gift, but hasn’t touched last year’s book.
“I do it because I like to write. I just like to write for my own enjoyment. Sometime I think about trying to get published, but that’s not really the top goal,” he said.
Although NaNoWriMo 2010 is under way, it’s not too late to join. To sign up, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org, which features a treasure trove of resources, including a message board that helps local writers connect and a reference desk that answers such important questions as, “If the entire population of Europe jumped into the ocean at the same time on the same beach how big a wave would they create?”
McVey said he would host regular weekly meet-ups from 3-5 p.m. Sundays through November at Panera Bread, 2200 W. Main in Norman. “Brendan Hoover
photo Ilya McVey writes at home. Photo/Mark Hancock