So, You Think You Can Write a Novel? Whidbey Island Participates in NaNoWriMo

Posted in Feature, Literary, More Stories

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
November 12, 2014

Every November, thousands of writers across the globe participate in National Novel Writing Month. The math is simple and the concept is audacious: if you write an average of 1,667 words a day, by the end of the month you’ll have a 50,000 word first draft of a novel.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, was started by freelance writer Chris Baty in July of 1999. He organized 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. By 2002, increased awareness, facilitated by stories on National Public Radio and CBS Evening News, increased the participant count to 14,000.

Sophie-keep-calmIn 2013, NaNoWriMo had 310,095 participants and it was calculated that over 2,872,682,109 words were written.

Several writers from Whidbey Island are 2014 NaNoWriMo participants.

Author Suzanne Kelman recently published a book that she started during a previous NaNoWriMo. 2014 marks her fourth year of participation. She explained why she keeps returning each November:

“It is the only way I get my butt kicked into gear—having to write on the fly as my bike careens out of control down huge hills. The process works well for the rompish feel of my stories.”

Kelman looks for the daily word counts that other writers post on their social media streams, including Penny Rose Webb, Development Director for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.

“I check Penny Rose Webb’s word count from the day before and make my mind up to beat it,” Kelman said.

Webb is working on a novelization of a memoir she began years ago.

“I had written about 200 pages five years ago, then put it aside when I moved to Whidbey,” she said. “NaNoWriMo has inspired me to pick it back up, though I just started writing from scratch and in the third person, so it’s kind of a novelization of my memoir, written very stream of consciousness, leaping around from past to future in the blink of an eye.”

NaNoWriMo image courtesy of the organization.

NaNoWriMo image courtesy of the organization.

Savannah True Randall is a student Southern Oregon University who has recently declared a English major with a Creative Writing Concentration. She described her NaNoWriMo project:

“It’s a YA fiction about a recent high school graduate who has a fairytale romance with a boy and a soulmate kind of best friendship with a girl but when she and her boyfriend break up and her best friend comes out to her, she has to navigate the fallout.”

Randall reflected that the writing process is challenging, but ultimately worthwhile:

“I feel pretty crazy about taking it on (as if I didn’t have enough writing to do as an English major). But I think I have a story in the works that needs to be told. There’s a lot of great literature for gay teens being published these days and there are fantastic novels for straight teens, but for teens who are somewhere in the middle, or trying to figure out where they fit in on the sexuality spectrum, there is very little with which to relate.”

Laura Tarasoff, a Diet Aide/Nutrition Assistant at Whidbey General Hospital, is working on a novel she’s named “The Pleasures of Life.” She described her writing process as both cathartic and rewarding:

“The fiction novel has been a toy project. I write poetry and non-fiction. Since the death of my father I’ve needed a focus. It seemed appropriate to write about enjoying life as a means to get back to enjoying my passion of writing. NaNoWriMo is the vehicle to get me going…Some people read or watch TV. I write. It’s not a chore; it’s my pleasure.”

Notable novels that have been started during NaNoWriMo include “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, “Don’t Let Me Go” by J.H. Trimble and “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan.

Talking with participants and watching the hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #AmWriting trend on social media sites, it’s clear that while writing a novel in a month is the objective goal of NaNoWriMo, it is ultimately an enterprise that encourages writers to get words on the page. Even if a participant doesn’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, they will have felt the encouragement and momentum of thousands of writers striving to write alongside them.

For more opportunities to write with others in the community this November, read this post: Meet your word count by writing in community this November.

NaNoWriMo image at top courtesy of the organization.

Katie Woodzick works at Hedgebrook as an External Relations Manager. She is also an actor and director who can be seen on local stages. Learn more at


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  1. Meet your word count by writing in community this November

    Whether you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and writing a 50,000- word novel in 30 days, or just need some companionship and accountability to help you meet your writing goals, there are two places where you can write in community in November.

    Mornings, you can write with Chris Peterson and Amy Eames, owners of Through the Reading Glass, the new bookstore in the purple building in Langley Village on Second Street in Langley.

    Evenings you can write with Wayne Ude, chief academic officer of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts’ MFA program in creative writing, at the Old Bayview School.

    These sessions are free and open to all writers.

    The schedule follows:

    Mornings: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 7 to 9 a.m. at Through the Reading Glass.

    Evenings: Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Old Bayview School.

    There will be no sessions on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.

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