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by Leah
Rated: E · Article · Writing · #1427679
A newspaper article on aspiring novelists working to complete a novel in 30 days.
    Emily and Ian were high school acquaintances who reconnected at a class reunion. But when scandal sends Ian to hide out in Emily's Cape Cod bed and breakfast ... something will probably happen.
    "I guess you could call it a love story, but it goes so much deeper than that," said author Chrissy Lewin.
    Lewin, of Middletown, doesn't yet know how the Ian and Emily saga will end. But cut her some slack - she's been writing it for less than a month.
    Lewin is taking part in National Novel Writing Month, a yearly exercise known as NaNoWriMo to its participants. NaNoWriMo is a challenge, easy for some, grueling for others, to write 50,000 words toward a novel during the month of November. At 12:00 a.m. on November 1, the more than 100,000 writers in 70 countries were allowed to type or scribble their first word. And at 12:00 p.m. on November 30, it's pencils (or keyboards) down.
    With so many novelists - a far cry from the 21 San Francisco Bay-area scribes that took the first challenge in 1999 - the group is broken down into regional affiliates. There are three in Connecticut, including the Connecticut East group coordinated by Marie Sultana Robinson of Mystic. Robinson, whose official title is municipal liaison, has been holding meetings at the Mystic & Noank Library on Monday nights for anyone in the group who wants support. She has even found a sponsor in Mystic's Bank Square Books, which gives nano-writers a discount on the official NaNoWriMo guidebook, "No Plot? No Problem!" But although her faction boasts 247 members from around the state, she has a tough time getting a crowd to attend the meetings.
    "I keep saying gathering writers is tougher than herding cats, but there's always hope that writers will gather," noted Robinson. "Only a very few do, but I have hope."
Most of the authors write at home, often in moments stolen from either before or after work and family responsibilities.
    "Writing is an isolated activity," observed participant Leslie Gueguen of Stamford.
Gueguen runs a year-round group for writers in Old Greenwich called Just Words Writer's Workshop and said groups like these are helpful because "they're really like a giant support net." Writers can meet others who are struggling with the same problems of time constraints, moribund plots, and self-doubt.
    Self-doubt seems to be a theme of the stereotypical writer, especially among those who haven't yet been published. If there were an American Idol for undiscovered writers, most contestants would probably insult themselves and walk off before the acerbic Simon Cowell had a chance to do it for them.
    Lewin, who has been to a few meetings in her three years doing NaNoWriMo observed that "a lot of self deprecation goes on there."
    Writer Paul Gagne of Waterbury echoed that thought. "I'm very Kafka-esque. I tend to hate everything I do," he said.
    The crux of nanowrimo is quantity over quality, mining your brain for any and all things creative while insisting your internal editor take the month off. Editing is left for December.
    "Nano is like flexing muscles, running sprints for me," remarked Robinson. "It's endurance training. It's about pushing the envelope once a year."
    Different writers approach their marathon writing sessions differently. Some follow an elaborate outline, while others let the whims of their imagination take the lead.
    Michelle Manning of Hebron started her opus with just a single sentence, "and then it went from there," she said. The story has been changing as she writes, and already has evolved past her original intent.
    "It might just develop into something completely different," she mused.
    Gagne said an outline would be too restrictive.
    "Just any sort of strange, fantastic ideas that come into my head, I write it down," he said. "I like to be surprised."
    Ainsley Pinkowitz, a Williams School junior, said she created a character, "an angsty teenage boy in Alice in Wonderland," and then just let him loose to see what he does.
    "Any time I start with the ending in mind, I can't get to it," she said.
      Lewin, for the first time in her three years of nano-ing, started with a plan and research notes. She wanted one character to drive a Corvette, so before November she went to a Chevrolet dealership and learned all she could about the sports car. Her male protagonist is a major league baseball pitcher, so she had a colleague who is a former professional pitcher show her how to throw a strike.
    "The research is definitely one of the most fun parts of the writing process," she declared.
    The benefits of NaNoWriMo to the writer go beyond what could be a saleable manuscript.
    "It definitely taught me to get in the practice of writing each day," said Loucindy Raymond-Weitzman of East Hampton. "You get used to it, and the time just flies."
    "It really helps the writing process," added Manning.
      Robinson would like to see the month-long NaNoWriMo experience grow into a year-round writer's group.
    "There's nothing like a small, local group to really inspire," she noted.
What to do with your 50,000 words (or less, if you didn't make it) at the end of the month is another matter. None of the writers would turn down an offer of publication, and in fact, 16 nano-novels have been published over the years. But all agree that the product in hand at the end of November will still need a great deal of work.
    "Writing a novel in 30 days, the most you're going to get is a draft," said Raymond-Weitzman.
    Gueguen compared her words - and she'll soon have 150,000 for the same novel after three years - to straw.
    "Now I'm Rumplestilskin, trying to spin gold out of straw," she said. "But it's good to have a lot of straw."
    And no matter how much editing and rewriting they do in December and beyond, the participants can still take pride in their ability to force themselves to accomplish such a large task in only 30 days.
    "It's the power of deadlines," Pinkowitz said.

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