Local group helps writers succeed at NaNoWriMo
By Cheryl Minns, Senior Columnist
National Novel Writing Month returns this November with its annual challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. The international online competition that began nearly 20 years ago has declared this year’s event theme as “NaNoWriMo Is…” The theme draws inspiration from participants’ experiences and the impact the non-profit organization has had on the writing community. One such impact was the creation of local writing group VancoWrimo, which began in the early 2000s.
“There was a feeling of a close community,” VancoWrimo member Dave Levine said to the Other Press in a phone interview. “People would join it like a tide coming in during November and then a lot of the people would wash away, but some people would stay. I was very happy to become one of those people who stayed in 2006.”
In 2012, Levine became a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for the Vancouver region, a team leader who manages the region’s group and events both in person and online at NaNoWriMo.com.
The Vancouver region of NaNoWriMo will have four Municipal Liaisons this year: Douglas College graduates Dave Levine and Jenelle Davies, long-time participant Gloria Mellesmoen, and New Zealander Cas Wanden.
In November, Davies will be doing her third NaNoWriMo challenge and entering her second year as a Municipal Liaison. Since joining NaNoWriMo in 2016, Davies has worked on a single novel, writing the first half of the book in November 2016 and the second half in November 2017.
“This year I will be pulling it all together and hopefully at the end of November I will have a fully functional draft that I can work on and get edited,” Davies said to the Other Press in an online interview.
Wanden has competed in the NaNoWriMo competition since 2010. In 2013, they published their 2012 novel in paperback and ebook on Amazon.
“Three days before I turned 20, I made sure I published my first book while I was a teenager,” they said to the Other Press in an online interview. “It’s now out of print, but I did it and people enjoyed it and it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Wanden has participated in NaNoWriMo in various locations, including Denmark in 2010; Wellington, New Zealand after that; and most recently Vancouver in 2016 and 2017.
“Vancouver is by far the most active region I’ve ever been in,” they said. “Denmark is geographically spread out, so I didn’t get to any Write-Ins because they were all far away from me. In Wellington, there were no Write-Ins because there wasn’t really a Municipal Liaison team. It feels a lot more like a community here in Vancouver.”
VancoWrimo strives to be an engaging community for Lower Mainland writers with its weekly Write-In events, launch and wrap parties, and online presence in the NaNoWriMo chatrooms, forums, and social media.
“We’re a really welcoming and supportive community,” Levine said.
“We also have things we do to encourage people to come to Write-Ins and get involved and be adventurous with their stories,” Wanden said, referring to the incentives that Municipal Liaisons offer participants who reach certain milestones, such as achieving specific word counts or attending Write-Ins in various cities. “We do a lot in terms of events, but also in terms of extra things to make the process fun.”
NaNoWriMo participant Cheryl Fowle has done the writing challenge since 2009 and seen firsthand how supportive and motivational the VancoWrimo community can be.
“There was one time I was falling behind in word count, but one of the Municipal Liaisons that year was determined to help me win for the first time at a community event,” she said to the Other Press in an online interview. “That night, I somehow managed to write 13,000 words and achieved what I thought was impossible: I won early surrounded by the community.”
Even though NaNoWriMo finishes on November 30, VancoWrimo continues hosting weekly Write-In events throughout the year to allow members the opportunity to continue working on the writing projects they began during NaNoWriMo.
“It’s a great community of people that meet to do editing, or writing, or planning for next year without the pressure of being a feedback group or a critique group,” said Davies, who attends the weekly Write-In held year-round at Waves Coffee House in New Westminster. “There’s a variety of different people, different levels of education, different experiences with writing. Some are published, some aren’t published, some aren’t ever interested in publishing and it’s just something they do for fun.”
“It’s nowhere near as intense as November is, but it’s a good way to give yourself a couple hours each week to keep writing and keep going,” said Wanden, who hosts a year-round weekly Write-In at Waves Coffee House in Vancouver.
Local author Tanya Lisle has participated in NaNoWriMo since 2005 and frequently attends the New Westminster weekly Write-Ins. She’s turned several of her 50,000-word NaNoWriMo stories into published books, which she sells on her website, TanyaLisle.com, and at local conventions. Her books have also been added to the Vancouver Public Library catalogue.
“When I first found out my books were on library shelves, I couldn’t believe it. I had to go in person to see it for myself,” she said to the Other Press in an online interview. “The fact that one of my books is actually sitting on the shelf right by Holly Lisle’s books is just an honour. I dreamed of the day it would happen and it actually has.”
However, it isn’t an easy task for a writer to take a NaNoWriMo novel of 50,000 words written in a month and turn it into a manuscript worthy of publication, according to Lisle.
“My NaNoWriMo drafts tend to be a lot rougher than drafts I write the rest of the year,” she said. “If I’m using the month to write the first book in a new series, there’s typically a lot of structural problems and I won’t always find the voice of my characters until halfway through. It’s not uncommon for those drafts to require a complete rewrite before my editor gets his hands on it.”
Davies hopes to get her NaNoWriMo work published in the future and sees authors who turn NaNoWriMo projects into published books as an inspiration to keep working on her own novel.
“It keeps you motivated knowing every first draft feels like trash, but it’s about the work you put into it afterwards,” she said.
Initially, Davies had doubts about doing NaNoWriMo because she didn’t know anyone else who was participating. But she decided to try the competition when she discovered the VancoWrimo community in 2016 at the group’s Kick0ff launch party.
“It was the Kickoff that got me excited and made the Write-Ins not so scary to attend as somebody who is really new to that world and not knowing anybody,” she said.
“The Kickoff is always a great way to connect with the network of VancoWrimo,” Wanden said. “Especially for people when it’s their first time doing NaNoWriMo in Vancouver or doing NaNoWriMo at all, you’re going into it with a network that you know.”
The first VancoWrimo event Wanden attended was a library Write-In in 2016, which left a lasting impression on them during their first NaNoWriMo in Vancouver.
“It was the last VancoWrimo event that I went to with full use of both my legs because two hours later I dislocated my knee and did the whole month of NaNoWriMo on crutches,” they said. “Dragging myself around the city from event to event was amazingly fun. I couldn’t work while I was injured so I had nothing else to do but go to every single Write-In in Vancouver. I’ve kind of seen the full spectrum of what VancoWrimo has to offer.”
On October 28, VancoWrimo will be hosting its 2018 Kickoff launch party at Moose’s Down Under restaurant and bar in downtown Vancouver. Past launch parties have included games, prizes, and lots of lively discussions about participants’ upcoming projects.
“We’ll reveal some things at the Kickoff,” Levine said. “That’s one of the benefits of coming to the Kickoff: You get in on what’s going on.”
During November, VancoWrimo will offer weekly Write-In events across the Lower Mainland at libraries and coffee shops, as well as a Transit Write-In on the SkyTrain on November 17. For those who cannot attend Write-Ins in person, there is a virtual Write-In happening in the NaNoWriMo chatroom every Friday night in November, hosted by Wanden and featuring the other Municipal Liaisons Levine, Davies, and Mellesmoen.
To participate in the month-long challenge, go to NaNoWriMo.com, sign up for a free account with an email address, and then enter the details of your project. Once November 1 hits, you can begin writing your novel and enter the number of words written into the word counter.
Good luck in reaching your goal this year!