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Giving Thanks for Writing

My return to National Novel Writing Month in November. 
by Rebecca Lynn Aulph

November is not only a time for giving thanks, it’s also the time to write a novel. I start the month as a Deep South intern, and I pray that after midnight on November 30, I pull off a reverse Cinderella. Hopefully, I turn into a novelist, not a pumpkin. And I’m not the only one counting on her fairy god-muse this month. More than 300,000 writers are expected to participate this year.

National Novel Writing Month was founded by freelance writer Chris Baty and is now run by nonprofit Office of Letters and Light. It targets those who think about writing a novel, but who never make the time for it. The challenge requires an approach to writing that values perseverance more than perfection. Participants begin writing on November 1 and aim to write an average of 1,667 words a day for one month. The ultimate goal is a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by midnight on November 30. In 2011, 256,618 people participated, but only 36,843 of them crossed the finish line. I was not among them.

I joined NaNoWriMo last year, after surviving my first year as a post-grad. I was eager to call myself a writer, in spite of my day job working with kids. I tried turning my experience moving from the North to the South into a novel, but the fresh material never ripened. I didn’t know how to write without a professor pointing out the merits and shortcomings of my work. I spent more time reworking old sentences than creating new ones. I fell behind on my daily word count and lacked the confidence I needed to catch up. I gave up at 7,077 words.

Instead of accepting my own failure, I blamed the NaNoWriMo style of writing and clung to the excuse that I needed more time to write. Over the subsequent months, I wrote a book of things I needed before I could write a book. I bought novel-writing software, more lattes than I could afford, unfilled and overpriced journals, and a typewriter, but I still felt uninspired. I started to regret my decision to move South instead of Northeast. Someone suggested keeping a blog to exercise my writing muscle, but I couldn’t think of a theme, so I searched for local publications accepting contributors. Fortunately, I found Deep South Magazine and an internship.

Once again, I have assignments that force me to write. I write about the South like a Southerner and not a transplant. Now, I feel like I can write anytime, anywhere. I no longer need a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” brownstone or a sabbatical. I took note of the authors near me in Atlanta. One, Jackson Pearce, stood out. A young adult author,  she first participated in NaNoWriMo during her sophomore year of college, and it helped her write the first book she used to query agents. She still uses the NaNoWriMo approach to write books, even when it’s not November.

This past August, at my local library, she partnered with the Georgia Center for the Book to offer a free workshop series titled, “Learning to Write a Young Adult Novel.”  I jumped – literally up and down – at the opportunity. An “unofficial” spokesperson for 3M, Pearce encourages outlining with Post-it Notes and making time to write every day, regardless of how you feel. My first homework assignment was to create an outline. Then, I had to write the first three chapters of a young adult novel within a week. I only finished the first page of chapter one, but I stuck with it and practiced writing for at least 20 minutes every morning, even after the workshop ended. Eventually, I lost track of time. Each day, when I sat down at my computer, I continued exactly where I left off. Without realizing it, I trained for NaNoWriMo like a runner trains for a marathon.

This year, I am following the NaNoWriMo rules that count and breaking those that don’t matter. You’re not supposed to begin the word-athon with a prewritten novel, but I couldn’t stop writing about the book-smart girl who has a lot to learn before she turns 16, so I started my NaNoWriMo novel at chapter three. I still plan to write 50,000 words within the month; but, unlike last year, I am not revising or contemplating. When I stop writing for the day, I leave an unfinished sentence on the screen or start a new chapter, so I have some place to begin the next morning. So far, I’ve stayed on target. I am offering myself a reward if I get through week one – a big cozy sweater from Target – not off the clearance rack. I want something writer-like but comforting for week two. I look forward to expanding my sweater collection, so wish me luck.

Visit www.nanowrimo.org to join the challenge, track your progress and view your stats. It’s an addictive distraction from Facebook, and it’ll keep you writing. Plus, the site offers plenty of pep talks and support. It’s not too late to join. If you’re already a WriMo, but you’d like some companionship, please become one of my writing buddies. My username is raulph06. I’ll take all the support I can get.

Rebecca Lynn Aulph is an intern at Deep South. Find out more about her in our Contributors section.


Other stories by Rebecca Lynn Aulph: 

Richmond’s Folk Roots
End of Summer’s Perfect Pairing
Hot Days, Cool Museums
How to Drink With a Southern Accent

Southern Product Tas
Best Election Tweets
  • Hunter Murphy / November 5, 2012

    Good luck, Rebecca Lynn Aulph! Loved this article. I for one will be pulling for you. Haven written a couple of novels myself, I can certainly appreciate the idea behind NaNoWriMo. There’s a great story about Anthony Trollope. He would write 250 words every quarter of an hour and do it for three hours every day. He kept a full time job during most of his writing life and he could finish his writing before breakfast.

    (Another part of the Trollope writing lore claims that if he finished a novel during that three hours of time, he would take a fresh sheet of paper and start another one.)

    He really does have a great blue collar approach to the craft which I admire. With some experience in this labor, I can honestly claim that there is no way to do it but to do it. It sounds facile but it’s true. When my muse starts acting coy, I do a trick called “sprinting.” I give myself one hour and try to write as much as possible. It always works.

    So, here’s to hoping you get your 1,667 words a day (and more)! Best of luck to you!

  • Hunter Murphy / November 7, 2012

    Glad to hear that, Rebecca! (And thanks for overlooking my misspellings.) 😉 I’m definitely pulling for you this month. Thanks for responding. Please ask Erin to let you follow-up your post in December with a report on how your month went. I love reading how others approach the craft and I could talk forever about it. It’s a fascinating practice and your article inspired me to pick up my pen again (after a somewhat frustrating, bone-dry, muse-less two months.) All best to you!