Katie McEntire, a content writer for an Ogden-based online media company, has always enjoyed creative writing, but the professional path into technical writing seemed like a less scary choice. This year, however, McEntire decided to take the plunge and try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), an event during which participants from all over the world write an entire novel during the month of November. Though the Paris, Tenn., native hasn’t quite reached the standard goal of 50,000 words, she took a break from writing to talk to
City Weekly about her NaNoWriMo experience. You can join a group of local NaNoWriMo participants at the Salt Lake City Main Library on Sunday, Nov. 30, from 2 to 5 p.m. as they make the final push.
Why did you decide to do NaNoWriMo this year?
I had heard about it in college. I'd had friends do it, and we had talked about it in creative-writing classes, but it seemed too overwhelming—"Nope, I'm a student, I'm too busy." But now that I've been out of school for a couple of years, I figured, Why not? Maybe it's temporary insanity.
A lot of people use it as an excuse to keep working on things they've been working on. I'm not really a creative writer by trade, so I figured this would be a nice way to stretch my legs and try something different. I took creative writing classes, but the most I wrote was maybe 10 page stories, so not a whole lot compared to NaNoWriMo, where the goal is 50,000 words. When you get to start writing, that's way more than it seems. Just saying 50,000 words is like, "That's no big deal, I can read
that in a day," and then as soon as I sit down, my mind just goes blank.
Why is it so hard?
Fiction is tough. When you first think about it, it's just "Oh, I just make stuff up? That's easy; I can do that." The way I'd strategized it was, "OK, 50,000 words. I can do 25 chapters of 2,000 words. That's easy, I can do that." It's a way bigger chunk than I expected it to be. I'll get out everything I can think of in 500 words and think, "Well, crap. What do I do now?" It's easy to put a cap on it, or just stop yourself when you really just need to keep going. It makes me wonder why it's so hard to get that out. What makes it so intimidating to express yourself?
What are your personal writing strategies?
I enjoy the Hemingway approach: write drunk, edit sober. It helps to have a small drink before I get started; that tends to loosen my brain so I'm not as afraid of how it sounds. And then you go back. The worst you can do is just write it again.
I think the key to it, so far, is just to turn off that internal editor: "This is dumb, why are you trying, this is contrived, this is too much exposition ..." It's a good exercise for that. And I'm a horrible procrastinator, so I'll sit down, and then wander off, thinking, "Oh, I should probably clean my room," or "The dishes are dirty!" or "I need to go for a walk ..." It's really helped me to force myself to sit down and do this, to have an actual set goal.
Bullet points are my favorite thing in the world. I tend to think in lists. So when I start to flesh them out, the sentences start to form. Drawing helps me, even if I'm not going to include any drawings, or if I'm not particularly good at drawing. It helps me envision and imagine, and also helps me distract myself from being scared of writing so that I continue to think about it, but in a different form.
Reading a lot of other stuff—different kinds of writing, anything from scientific nonfiction to Goosebumps, to brain candy or good novels—really makes a difference and helps you stretch. As you are reading, you can see what the other writers are doing, and it helps a lot. Right now, I'm reading Bill Nye's book, Undeniable
, about evolution. It's been a good stretch—I've been reading a lot of Vonnegut this year, and then Goosebumps and silly stuff around Halloween.
And, it's so hard to work at home. I live with four people, and two dogs and a cat, and it's a lot of distractions. So coffeeshops are the best.
Does it help to have others around the world doing this at the same time?
I haven't utilized the website, but what's really helped me is that I have friends back in Tennessee who are doing it, and they are kicking ass. It's been a challenge to keep up with them. I have several co-workers who are doing it, too, so we'll have write-ins after hours and try to push each other. But it is nice to know that everywhere around the world, there is someone sitting at their desk going, "Ughhhhh." It's a nice little community, and it seems like a good bragging right to say that you've even participated, because it's a daunting task.
How many words are you at?
Well, I'm a slacker. I'm at 10,000. It's a fifth of the way through, but it's not where I wanted to be. Before Nov. 1—the rule is that you're supposed to start writing at 12:01 on Nov. 1—I was prepared, I'd been thinking about it, I had notes and bullet points, and then as soon as it came around, I was like, "Mmmm, maybe not." Life gets in the way, too. I have nights where I'll get home from work and think, "I will write. I will write." And then something more fun happens.
You're in the final stretch—what's your plan?
I'm just going to try to barf it out as much as I can—just get it out. When I started, I'd write a chapter, and then I'd go back and revise. I'd write another chapter, and then go back. It was not efficient. I think it's part of the reason I'm so far behind—I spent so much time going over and over the first chapter. I don't think you're supposed to do that—the point is to just spit it onto the page. And if it's gross, that's fine; if it's good, that's better. Once November is over, it'll be nice to come back and look at it. I might surprise myself—I'm not sure if I'll recognize what I was doing in parts.
Will you do it again?
It's scary but it's worth it. I definitely want to try it next year, especially knowing what I know now, and that I really have to cloister myself. I think everyone has their own practices. I really admire people who can get work done in the middle of a busy living room.
Did anything surprise you, besides how hard it's been?
It's become way more personal than I expected it to be. I'm seeing characters, scenes and moments that I've apparently been thinking about for years. It's interesting to see how much you have inside your own head.
I've heard some writers immediately send their NaNoWriMo projects out to agents. Will you do that?
that! There is a form on the website where you can upload your project, but I don't think I'm going to do that. There's not necessarily anything bad
in here, but I'm not sure I'm ready to release it into the wild.
I don't really have any plans for this. I wanted to do it more for the experience, the personal growth. I'm a bragger; I tend to talk big about this kind of thing, and then not do anything. I figured this was a good way to get the ball rolling. This might be an ongoing project that I work on for years.
That's one of the cool things about this project that I didn't really realize—it is an ongoing thing. It's become a legitimate hard choice, when someone says, "Hey, do you want to go out and do something fun, or do you want to write?" And it's like, "I want to write."