The end (is near?): National Novel Writing Month participants zero in on 50,000 word count

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Novels that began as NaNoWriMo projects include:

■ “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

■ “Wool” by Hugh Howey

■ “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell

■ “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen

■ “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

■ “The Darwin Elevator” by Jason M. Hough

■ “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan

■ “Take the Reins” by Jessica Burkhart

■ “The Beautiful Land” by Alan Averill

■ “Don’t Let Me Go” by J.H. Trimble


At the risk of winning a Bulwer-Lytton (you writers know what that is), there comes a dark and stormy night of the soul.

It usually happens around 11 p.m., slumped over the laptop, nerves sizzling from a desperate amount of Diet Coke, resisting the urge to bang a tender forehead against the keyboard, Don Music-style: I’ll never get it! Never! Never!

Maybe the characters aren’t behaving. Maybe the plot has holes. Maybe defeatist internal voices are saying it’s not good enough.

Or maybe it’s just nearing the end of November, with a word count well short of the 50,000 goal.

While deadlines can be acutely motivating, Wednesday, Nov. 30 is just five days away, as everyone who started the NaNoWriMo — or National Novel Writing Month — challenge is well aware. The question is (with no added pressure intended): Are they going to finish?

“I am determined to get the 50,000 words in this year,” Barbra Campbell, 46, a NaNoWriMo-er from Cedaredge, said Wednesday morning. “That is a really firm goal for me this year, although if you look at my (word count) numbers of 30,000 right now, it’s a little scary how I’m going to pull that off.”

Celebrating its 18th year, NaNoWriMo ( “believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page,” according to the nonprofit organization’s website. Writers are encouraged to just get the words down, to let the stories flow, and edit them later.

In 2015, 431,626 writers on six continents registered for the challenge on the NaNoWriMo website, of whom more than 40,000 met the 50,000 goal within the 30 days of November. That is considered “winning” NaNoWriMo, though “you’re not in competition with anybody but yourself,” explained Jodi Gallegos, 46, a Grand Junction writer who on Monday said she was on track to meet the 50,000 word goal by Wednesday, Nov. 30.

For those counting at home, that’s an average of 1,667 words per day, which sounds reasonable until the writer realizes, oh yeah, life must be lived, too.

Which is kind of the point: NaNoWriMo is the gift of time writers give themselves, because it’s so easy or necessary to get caught up in the regular day-to-day and just not make the time to write. Then pretty soon, 11 months have passed.

“It’s a sort of freedom from responsibility for that one month,” explained Bernadette Martinez, 35, who moved to Grand Junction over the summer from South Korea. “Your friends and family really have to be on board and supporting you.”

Gallegos, whose children are 9, 13 and 15 and who works in case management for critical nurse staffing, has always loved writing and is participating in NaNoWriMo for the fifth year, but acknowledges that squeezing time to write into her schedule can be tough: “Life gets in the way,” she said. “I work a lot of hours, I have the usual family, kids, you’re running to and fro, you struggle to make the time to sit down and write.

“(During NaNoWriMo) you can tell your family, it’s November. And so you know, your husband’s like woo-hoo, watching hockey and basketball, and the kids are like woo-hoo, free video games. We’re not making big, fancy meals this month because everybody knows I’m writing. We may take time off and go do stuff as a family, but this is the month that they really support me.”

Last year was the first time she “won” NaNoWriMo, ending up with about 66,000 words of a young adult historical novel set in the 1930s world of Louisiana bootleggers. Before November, she did a lot of preparatory research, studying Louisiana maps, Cajun dialect and food, down to the price of groceries at that time and in that region, and the intricacies of moonshining.

While pre-NaNoWriMo research is fine, it could be considered cheating to start writing the actual novel before Nov. 1. That’s why so many writers get creative about where, when and how they find time to write.

Martinez, who this year is writing a young adult fantasy about a dragon-born girl who was sent to Earth with her memories wiped, said she uses Google Docs so that she can write on her tablet or phone if she’s out and about.

On the Grand Junction NaNoWriMo Facebook page, which functions as a gathering place and sounding board for writers to support each other, Linda Armstrong posted, “Dictated 1,200 words into my digital recorder on my walk this morning (re-doing some of what didn’t record yesterday). I think I’m getting closer to getting the thing to play nice with my Windows 10 computers ... If I can work out the bugs, though, this is going to revolutionize my writing life. For now, it’s just funny.”

Kathryn Bennett, who is attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, said she doesn’t think she’ll finish her science fiction novel about a down-on-her-luck military veteran who discovers a mind-control potion, “but I intend to keep writing throughout the next year,” she said. “My writing routine is to come home, grab a glass of tasty wine, put on my headphones and grind out as many pages as I can before dinner.”

Campbell said that though she would love to “win” NaNoWriMo for the first time — this is her fourth attempt — she won’t be heartbroken if she doesn’t. Like a lot of writers, she said the goal is to learn new skills, explore ideas, grow as a writer and just write.

Even if that means a few moments of wanting to give up, a few cringe-worthy sentences, a few late nights. Nov. 30 is coming and the stories are being told.


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