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November has the write stuff
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THINGS ARE looking a little different this November than last year. For next Tuesday, instead of allocating five minutes to drop by my polling site and vote, I’ve blocked out most of the morning to cast my ballot, just in case the predictions of a record turnout overwhelm the poll workers.

Instead of making a Christmas shopping list to take advantage of after-Thanksgiving sales, this year I’ll be roaming the house in search of regifting ideas, taking breaks to obsessively recheck the Marketwatch website’s peak and valley, hour-by-hour graphs of stock market indices.

And, instead of escaping from the worrisome real world by reading a novel, for the first time in my life I’ll be trying to write a novel instead.

Writing is an inherently solo pursuit, but for this initial effort I won’t be alone. In November 2007, 101,510 writers worldwide participated in the ninth annual National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, which calls itself “the largest writing contest in the world.” So far I’m one of 46 Savannah area residents who are signed up for a November 2008 attempt.

The premise behind NaNoWriMo is simple but not easy. Write a 50,000 word novel between 12:01 a.m. on November 1 and 11:59 p.m. on November 30. That’s it. If you complete 50,000 words, you’re a winner. If you don’t, well, there’s always next year.

Winners receive the satisfaction of having completed their novel, or at least a “shitty first draft,” a term coined by writer Anne Lamott and embraced by writers across America. For those needing more tangible recognition, NaNoWriMo organizers provide a winner web badge and a downloadable winner’s certificate.

Lest you suspect that Lamott’s terminology is the best description for all NaNo projects, the writing contest’s website includes a list of over 20 authors whose National Novel Writing Month projects have been printed by major publishers. Sara Gruen’s NaNo novel, Water for Elephants, made the New York Times bestseller list in 2007 and made her into a millionaire. Who says you can’t make a living as a writer?

To kick off the 2008 novel writing season, Savannah NaNo participant Yidi Yu is organizing an “incredibly unofficial and informal” Midnight Write In at the Metro Coffee House this Friday night. Yu, the president of SCAD’s Writer’s Block student writing group, is a five time participant and two time winner of NaNo. Yu posted an announcement of the write in on the Savannah forum of NaNo’s official website, and so far, three other local writers have expressed interest in attending, in addition to a few Writer’s Block members.

“A lot of people want to do other things on Halloween—but I’m still hoping that midnight is late enough that people will be done with their trick or treating and parties,” said Yu via email.

First time NaNo-er Amy Manikowski “only heard about it last year, and by then it was too late” to start. The assistant manager at Ex Libris bookstore already has “a very, very, very rough plan” for her novel.

“I’m hoping to get into a more detailed plot and character development. I’ve written a novel before so I know what it’s like going into it.”

According to NaNo rules, pre-November plot outlining is fine, but nary a word can be written until the clock strikes midnight on November 1.

Manikowski’s writing schedule is ambitious: 2,000 words per day, every day. “I’m going to shoot for 60,000 words. If I have to go somewhere out of town, I’ll try to do it before I leave.”

Her preferred writing time is at night, “and if I have a day off I spend the whole day. I like to write in big chunks.”

“My first novel was a historical novel so the research took up the majority of the time,” said Manikowski. “It’s fun to do this in a month because you don’t have to worry about [complexities and the majority of the plot] so much, the ‘wow, that doesn’t go with that at all.’” cs

Savannah’s Midnight Write In for NaNoWriMo:

Friday, Oct. 31, midnight to Sat., Nov. 1, 2 a.m. Metro Coffee House on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. For more information, register for National Novel Writing Month on their website: