As you read this article, the clock is ticking for participants in the 15th annual National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo. What began in 1999 with 21 writers in San Francisco has since become a worldwide phenomenon, with professionals and hobbyists alike wrestling unwieldy plots and uncooperative characters each November, attempting to write an entire novel in 30 days or less.
This year, 428 Rhode Islanders are registered at NaNoWriMo.org. While many of those writers drop out quickly, Ocean State novelists have collectively written more than 5,400,000 words in 2013.
For the sake of setting realistic goals, NaNoWriMo considers a novel a single work of at least 50,000 words. That’s an average of 1667 words — or about six double-spaced manuscript pages — per day. While detractors complain that 180 pages is shorter than most contemporary novels, that’s not really the point. Winners finish the month with a first draft, not a publishing deal. (Actually, a handful of NaNoWriMo novels have been picked up by major publishers, but only after the same extensive rewrites that go into any other published novel.)
Lindsey Kreick is one of Rhode Island’s Municipal Liaisons, the folks in charge of meet-ups where novelists have a chance to leave the house and bounce ideas off one another. Libraries and coffee shops in Providence, Barrington, Central Falls, and Wakefield are hosting “Write-Ins” this year. Kreick also moderates the local online forums, where participants can introduce themselves, track each other’s word counts, and lend motivational support. (One thread, “Where Did You Last Leave Your Characters?” is full of intriguing one-liners. “Tiridates was describing the fine details of a bead found at a murder scene but was interrupted by a violent pounding on the door,” says one writer. “My monster lady just went into a speakeasy,” says another. “Her reaction to a man playing the piano was priceless.”)
Kreick writes fantasy, the most popular genre with NaNoWriMo authors worldwide. What began as a relatively thin plot took shape after a friend jokingly told her to add a dragon, she says. Initially dismissing the idea as a cheesy fantasy cliché, she eventually gave it a try, and now her story centers around a friendly dragon who sends a young female warrior named Filomena to a town where, to her surprise, women are respected as equals.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, Kreick and nine other writers met at the Providence Athenaeum. Quietly clicking away at laptops, the group — largely female, largely shy about discussing their work — spanned several generations.
RK Bentley was there, too, participating in NaNoWriMo for the tenth consecutive year. Rhode Island’s unofficial second Municipal Liaison, he’s finished six science fiction novels over the years. This year he’s attempting a space opera. (That’s the subgenre of sci-fi featuring interplanetary melodrama, like Star Wars.) A sequel to one of his earlier NaNoWriMo novels, the story revolves around a 16-year-old girl salvage operator, whose family works in space to haul back debris to sell to mechanics. “The novel is a mix and match of old technology and magic,” he says. “It’s a work-safe version of Game of Thrones in space.”