The best advice I ever got about how to write a book came from UNM Professor Virginia Scharff years ago when I asked her how she had completed her most recent title. It stuck with me for its simplicity: “You just do it.” Hands on the keyboard, typing out words. There are really no shortcuts. It requires a dedication of time and that is the purpose of National Novel Writing Month (often contracted to NaNoWriMo).
Twenty years ago, a group of people in the San Francisco Bay area joined together to encourage each other to dedicate a month to writing a novel. With the addition of a website (nanowrimo.org) and volunteers known as Municipal Liaisons (an excellent title for a novel), the NaNoWriMo movement took hold and continues across the country in November of each year. As the month approaches, Albuquerque’s writers are preparing to commit to writing a novel in November. The organizational structure of the group is free, loose and supportive. Anyone can join. The goal is to keep each other writing until they reach the coveted word count of 50,000 by the end of the month.
Albuquerque NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison Sonja Dewing says that is totally possible, if you stick with it and reach out for help if you need it. Weekly Alibi sat down with Dewing to talk about how to get through writing a novel in a month. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Weekly Alibi: How important is solidarity to what's essentially a solo act?
Sonja Dewing: I think bringing people together is important because you come up with new ideas that you wouldn't have come up with on your own. You can stop when you're stuck and talk to someone sitting next to you and crowdsource a problem that you're having. You can get up from your laptop and take a walk around the block because people who are sitting right next to you can watch your stuff. I think that's important too, taking breaks from your laptop and getting some exercise and energy. I think just being with other people and having a community makes it feel different, feel better.
What is your role?
My role is, if I see someone stuck, to help them. Also, I encourage writing sprints. I'll schedule writing sprints throughout a write-in. Basically, it forces you to write as fast as you can. Oftentimes you have no idea what you're about to write. You just start writing and sometimes you come up with something amazing. Sometimes it's total crap, but you're writing words and you're getting something on paper.
What is your best writing advice? Is it shitty first draft? Is it write drunk? Is it kill your darlings?
I don't know about the writing drunk thing. I've been reading a lot of stuff lately about people who like to take different things in order to help them write and be more creative. Then I've been reading about how they get stuck in this loop where they can't write without something special. So, I feel like, just write your shitty first draft as well as you can. Then when you start, when you sit down and you start writing, don't worry about beginning at the beginning, just begin in the first scene that you have in your head for this story and go from there. Worry about organizing and putting it all together later.
Kurt Vonnegut said to start as close to the end as possible.
Maybe. It's funny because when I start a novel, I always have these five scenes in my head that have to happen. So, I will just start with one of those first scenes, go from there and then fill everything in after that. I don't write like Vonnegut.
Do you think everyone has a novel in them?
I think so. Almost everyone I talk to says I have this story in my head. So, I feel like everyone in this world probably has a novel. They want to write.
How can people get involved with NaNoWriMo?
Number one, sign up on the nanowrimo.org website and make sure to select your region. That way you can get emails from myself and my other Municipal Liaisons and you'll get updates on upcoming events.
Tell me about the event on Halloween.
That's a tradition of ours. We always meet on Oct. 31 at Frontier at 11pm. We can't start writing until midnight, so basically we eat food and meet each other or we hand out candy and do silly things. Then right at midnight, we start writing until Frontier kicks us out, somewhere around 1am.
What else do people need to know about NaNoWriMo?
Try to be involved, if you can, in the write-ins because that helps you keep writing. If you get behind, because there is a daily goal, don't start worrying. Really, if you can take one Saturday or Sunday to just write all day, then you would catch up.
What is the daily goal?
It's 1,667 words a day.
Because the entire goal for the whole thing is ...
50,000 words by the end of the November.