50,000 Words In A Month: November Means NaNoWriMo
If you’re still keeping your energy up with leftover candy from Halloween, writers around the world and here in Arizona are like-minded as they juice up on caffeine, pound energy drinks, eat sugary confections and channel their muses for this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest.
The goal: write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during the month of November.
For fiction enthusiasts, many spent what’s called “Plotober,” last month, plotting out how they will achieve that goal.
“Yeah, I can’t wait. I actually plotted more than I usually do. I wanted to write a sequel to last year's book,” said Theresa Munroe, a retiree living in Youngtown.
This is her 13th year participating and she’s building off her previous novel about a woman named Julie who moves to Phoenix from Los Angeles to reboot her life.
In describing her main character, Munroe said, “She custom-makes dresses for well-heeled women as they put it, but she gets sick. She finds out she has a kind of leukemia, which when I started writing this [last year], I was diagnosed with the same kind of leukemia and fortunately for me, I found it early. Julie didn’t.”
Munroe said her sequel investigates how Julie copes with her diagnosis and also a prior relationship gone terribly wrong in the first book.
Those who spend “Plotober” laying out the groundwork for their novels are naturally referred to as “plotters,” because NaNoWriMo has a lot of lingo.
And for writers like Valley English teacher Kendall Pack, a 12-year veteran, he’s a “pantser,” someone who writes by the seat of their pants with no outline. He said, “I think the heart of us comes out when we are unconsciously just plowing through 50,000 words of stuff."
Pack added he draws from journals for material and uses sticky notes for thumbnail characterization. But his side-hustle as a standup comic for a decade leads to improvisation in writing as well.
“I certainly don’t think an improvised novel is going to end up perfect, but what I do find is that I can explore some different avenues that I never would have discovered before. If I sit there and I plot the whole thing out and I say this is exactly how it’s going to go, I think there’s less opportunity for creative thinking,” he said.
Quinlyn Shaughnessey is a 2020 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. She began competing in NaNoWriMo when she was a teen and said after more than a decade of experience, “I think the secret is to work on something that makes you happy and you’re really deeply interested in it because if you’re not interested in it, you probably won’t finish it."
She said it’s sometimes difficult to turn off her newswriting brain and put on her creative writing cap after not wearing it during her news internship.
“I wasn’t actively working on a project for a few months while working on my internship and when I came back to it, I realized that every sentence I was writing was extremely short and it was like a staccato rhythm of sentences. I was like, I’ve turned into Hemingway," she said.
Shaughnessey is branching out into the genre of historical fiction this year.
Whether you’re a plotter, a pantser or even a planster, who’s somewhere in-between, November is a blinking cursor awaiting your words.
And although the word count currently registers zero, you can still catch up.
Hear more from Munroe, Pack and Shaughnessey on “Word,” a podcast about the literary arts in Arizona and the region.