A novel competition

Melissa Treolo

There’s a novel inside all of us, some say, just waiting to be written, published and sold to the Barnes and Noble-shopping masses.

Maybe you’re sitting on a brilliant story idea. You’re sure that if you just had the time to sit down and write, your completed novel would most assuredly have a reserved spot on the New York Times bestseller list and you’d be making a hell of a lot more money than you do now in that 8-to-5, “Office Space” inspired cubicle you call your job.

Perhaps it’s a paperback romance novel, complete with steamy cover photos of a beautiful and partially clad couple in flagrante. Maybe you fancy yourself the next Louis L’Amour. Maybe Jack Kerouac’s got nothing on that “On The Road in 2006” novel you plan on writing someday about traveling cross-country on nothing but your wits. Whatever the case, “someday” is now.

“People always say one day they’re going to write a novel, but they never actually do it,” said Lissa Staley, librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and municipal liaison for National Novel Writing Month. “This event is basically announcing the end of the ‘one day’ novelist.”

NaNoWriMo is an organization founded in 1999 by Chris Baty, a freelance writer from Oakland, Calif. The event is free and gives anyone who wants to sign up 30 days, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, to complete a 50,000-word novel. NaNoWriMo was first held in San Francisco but has since grown to encompass participants all around the world. The Topeka chapter got started in 2004, and those taking part in this year’s event make up quite a diverse demographic. This includes teachers, middle school and high school students, college students and, of course, librarians like Staley. She has signed up and completed a novel each year that NaNoWriMo has been held in Topeka and believes this event is a great experience for anyone.

“This is such a great creative exercise, even for non-writers,” said Staley. “Your creativity level rises and you have these little deadlines you set for yourself everyday that forces you to keep going. The time deadline prevents procrastination, because if you get stuck in your story, you just find a way to get unstuck, rather than giving up and putting the project away.”

Imagine yourself, pen poised over paper or fingers over keyboard, poring over each word as you try to complete your first 50,000-word novel. You only have a month to finish but this is your first novel, your magnum opus, and you want each word to be absolutely perfect. Staley says to forget about all this. There’s no time to edit yourself, she said.

“The idea is quantity over quality,” said Staley. “You have to write on the fly. The idea is to get a rough draft in 30 days, not a completely polished manuscript.”

For support in your novel writing endeavors there’s a whole Web site, www.nanowrimo.org, with discussion forums, information about the history of NaNoWriMo and answers to your frequently asked questions. Through the Web site, you can also find and meet other NaNoWriMo writers in your area – a great resource for swapping story ideas, comparing word counts or just getting together over coffee and laptops. For resources, NaNoWriMo offers a laptop lending library where it will lend out laptops to those unfortunates who don’t already own one. For rewards, one doesn’t need to look beyond their own abilities and hard work. NaNoWriMo doesn’t offer publishing contracts or monetary rewards, but many participants have gone on to revise and finish their rough drafts, get them published and garner some success by doing so. Romance novelist Lani Diane Rich’s 2002 NaNoWriMo book, “Time Off For Good Behavior,” won the Romance Writers of America award for Best Debut Novel in 2003. Other published NaNoWriMo authors have included Sarah Gruen, Francesca Segre and Gayle Brandeis.

And of course, there’s always the reward that comes with a finished project.

“My responsibilities don’t magically go away in November,” said Staley in an e-mail. “But for one month a year I get a bit selfish and make enough space to be creative, give myself enough time to write and give myself permission to take on this huge crazy goal. Come Dec. 1, everything will go back to normal, but I will have the feeling of satisfaction that I have created something. Maybe not something terrific or life-changing or even very readable, but something that came from my own imagination.”