Tortured creatives have gathered throughout the Lowcountry in droves this month. They're writers of all ages and walks of life, with battle wounds of carpal tunnel, blurred vision, finger blisters, and bouts of madness.
In honor of National Novel Writing Month, more than 1,000 Charlestonians have dared to complete a 50,000-word novel by midnight on Nov. 30. That's about 1,667 words a day ... not that anyone is counting. These word-weary authors are this year's crop of NaNoWriMos — or WriMos, for short. NaNoWriMo began in 1999 when founder Chris Baty and 20 of his closest San Francisco Bay Area friends began noveling and created passable novels over the course of a month.
Baty's pet project launched a literary nonprofit and has become a worldwide phenomenon, with 256,618 participants logging 3,074,068,446 words in 2011. While the 50,000 word goal is important, NaNoWriMo is about more than simply completing a novel in 30 days' time. "It's about camaraderie and support in a space that is usually pretty solitary," says four-year NaNo veteran and Charleston municipal liaison Lindsay Beard.
Beard keeps Charleston WriMos in touch and energized, organizing write-ins at local coffee shops throughout Dorchester, Berkeley, and Charleston counties. "I don't want our WriMos to get bogged down in the process," Beard says. "This is supposed to be fun."
Local WriMo Sean Doyle adds, "As writers, we are inherently tortured and frustrated, but during NaNoWriMo, we are tortured and frustrated together."
A typical write-in includes games, raffles, and timed Word Wars. "We want to keep the energy up," explains Beard, who also gives out NaNo badges, stickers, and custom workbooks to Charleston WriMos. Write-ins can be as raucous and social as participants want them to be. "By the end of the month, meetings are a great way to decompress and talk through what you're going through with someone who's going through the same thing," Doyle says.
Most WriMos fall into one of two categories: Plotters or Pantsers, according to Beard. Plotters begin thinking about their novels in October, coming up with diagrams and plot outlines. Pantsers, on the other hand, literally fly by the seat of their pants from day one, letting the characters take them where they will.
"Pantsers have no plan, no plot," says Beard, whose impulsive 2010 NaNo novel A Fog in Charleston was a semi-finalist for the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for a Novel-in-Progress. "It's basically, 'Let's write a book.'"
"There's something about pushing yourself to complete a novel in a short period of time that creates a truly organic writing experience," Doyle adds. "Writing a book outside of NaNo, I would do character studies and research prior to picking up my pen. But for NaNo, my story is changing by the week."
NaNo-influenced writing can lead to more interesting and creative stories than those written conventionally. But NaNo novels can also be "gigantic flaming disasters," says Doyle.
"But we remind our WriMos that both are OK," Beard chimes in. "You're a winner when you complete 50,000 words, no matter what your story looks or sounds like."
Participants are free to revise their stories after NaNo wraps up ... or not. "You can definitely say, no matter what, that you wrote a book," Doyle says. "And that you know how the process works."
College of Charleston creative writing professor Anthony Varallo agrees. "Creativity arises from process and routine and not inspiration, although we'd often like to think otherwise," he says. "NaNoWriMo is a great program."
Most NaNo participants stay away from the delete button and rarely scroll up to reread their work during the month-long marathon. "Your first draft is always crap," Beard says. "Just get over it, and turn off your inner editor."
The biggest challenge, according to most NaNo participants, is pushing through. "You get bored, you run out of steam, and then you don't want to finish," says Beard. "It's easy to get overstressed, and then you want to take the day off, maybe watch some TV. Then you never go back. You lose the momentum."
And most WriMos don't have that kind of time to lose. Ninety percent of Charleston's NaNo participants work or study full-time, Beard estimates. One former WriMo handled radioactive material all day and wrote her novel on post-it notes during free moments in her lab. "When you think about how busy some of our WriMos are, there's really no excuse not to be writing," Beard says.
Despite the stress, lack of sleep, and time suck, WriMos overwhelmingly agree that it's all worth it. "Yes, NaNoWriMo is difficult and frustrating," says 18-year-old CofC English major Nathaniel Kelley. "But in the end, you can look back and feel incredibly empowered about what you've accomplished, no matter the number of words you put to paper. And you become a part of one of the most enthusiastic, supportive, and over-caffeinated communities on Earth."
Just don't talk to them the last week of November.
For more information on Charleston's NaNoWriMo scene, contact Lindsay Beard at email@example.com.
As of Nov. 6, Charleston's 1,125 WriMos lead the state in words written at 1,406,798. Follow their progress here: nanowrimo.org/en/forums/usa-south-carolina-charleston/threads/84298
Writer, preservationist, and Charleston NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison
"My protagonist has already changed in character quite a bit, going from a mild-mannered schoolgirl to a badass bitch. I'm letting her take it from here." Follow Beard's progress here: nanowrimo.org/en/participants/stareena/novels/time-turners/stats
Writer and bookseller at Mr. K's Used Books, Charleston NaNoWriMo Minion
"I came down with a cold and am a little behind on my word count, but on the way over here, I had about a half dozen ideas in my head. That's the beauty of NaNo." Follow Doyle's progress here: nanowrimo.org/en/participants/mister_arkham/novels/the-rover-the-death-of-the-black-flame/stats
Carley Eason Evans
Speech pathologist at MUSC and author of Metal Man Walking and Annie Dreaming
"I'm currently writing about a preacher who doesn't really behave as a preacher should. But he has an epiphany that changes his behavior."
College of Charleston English Major
"My novel is still in its infancy, and I won't truly have an idea where it's headed until later in the month. Right now, it's just 'crank out words as fast as you can.' I find that the story will form its own direction in time. I tend to stay away from writing about just one character. The more people there are in a story, the more material there is to write about."
Middle school teacher and Charleston NaNoWriMo Minion
"I'm still in limbo with my novel. I've got bits and pieces, but in a week, I should be fine. My students love to ask me how many words I've written!"
Actor and bookseller at Mr. K's Used Books
"My novel is a fantasy idea I've been toying with for a few years. It's about a girl who wakes up in the afterlife and finds that she has divine abilities. She ends up trying to find the source of a mysterious dark force that threatens everyone's eternity. I originally wrote it as the script for an elaborate stage play."