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For the writer in most of us

December 3, 2011
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

When I was in the sixth grade, I?remember trying to write a book. It was written longhand in a notebook and it was a dialogue-heavy and fictionalized look at my class at St. Anne's School. I remember even writing to Scholastic Press if the publishing company would accept a manuscript, even if it was handwritten (and by a kid). I?figured that since Gordon Korman was able to have his first book published ("This Can't Be Happening At MacDonald Hall") when he was 14 years old, I?could too. But I have since tossed that notebook and to tell you the truth, I don't think I would ever want that particular book published. I?used to write a lot of fiction stories when I?was younger, but those days have long gone by.

During the month of November, a yearly, Internet-based creative writing project called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, kicks off. It started in 1999 and people who take part in the project are challenged to write 50,000 words of a new novel within the month of November. It was started with just 21 participants in its first year; in 2010, that number grew to more than 200,000 people from all over the world.

When I?write an article for the newspaper, it's usually around 500 words. That can be challenging in itself. I can't imagine writing 50,000 words in a month's time. I haven't written for fun in a long time. And I'll admit that some of those short stories I wrote as a kid weren't always original ideas.

Southwest Minnesota State University creative writing student Chloe VanDuinen has was trying to do something with a NaNoWriMo group on campus this year, but homework and working on her own novel has gotten in the way. She said that she's participated in the writing event for the last four years and has made the 50,000 word goal each year.

VanDuinen learned about the event when she was a senior in high school. She started a week late and finished a week early.

"I had done a lot of writing before that on my own but never had the motivation to finish anything I?started,"?she said. "This gave me the motivation to finish an entire book."

In order to complete the 50,000 words in a month, one must write at least 1,667 words a day, VanDuinen said, as that's the baseline goal and it's good to get ahead early.

"Sometimes I'm able to get ahead early, other times I?end up rushing to finish,"?she said. "I?was unable to finish this year because school is more important and I?only made it to 12,000 words. The important thing is to have a story line and characters you actually care about. I?was working from an outline this year and it wasn't nearly as fun as just seeing where the story went."

VanDuinen likes stories with magic - real people who suddenly find themselves caught up in a magical world.

"So I?get a character and make something happen to her,"?she said. "I usually don't plan my novel out so it goes where it wants to and NaNoWriMo is nice because it allows you to jump from place to place without worrying about how your characters go there. That's what editing is for and it's usually easier to come up with transitions later on."

VanDuinen has been interested in writing since she was in the fifth grade. She just started making up stories and characters and adding to those stories until they were quite long. She said she still has them and still working on them as she's always finding new things to write about.

There has been some interest in having a NaNoWriMo group on campus, VanDuinen said, as she convinced a few of her friends to take part this year. There were a couple of other people from the community and her classes that she met through the NaNoWriMo website. She thinks there would have been more interest if she had been able to do more events.

VanDuinen encourages writers to go to the website if they want to get involved and just look around. There are forums and a blog full of "fun stuff," she said.

"There are people of all ages who participate and they even have a separate website for 'young writers' which features parents and teachers who get elementary-aged children involved in writing longer stories," she said. "It's nice because no one looks down on you if you don't win and it's a very supportive community. You're competing against yourself and you prize is your very own novel."

For anyone who missed the November competition or is unable to participate, another version of NaNoWriMo is available during the summer called Camp NaNoWriMo, VanDuinen said. It started last summer and will hopefully be bigger next summer, she added. The website for that event is And for the aspiring scriptwriters, there's Script Frenzy in April where you and whoever you want to work with try to write a 100-page screenplay (, she said.

As for VanDuinen's novel this year, it's sort of an alternate history/war/romance story involving time travel. She generated the outline from a weird dream she had and thought it would be fun to write.

"Unfortunately the outline was actually pretty boring and it only got interesting when I?decided to get away from the outline and just start writing whatever I felt like," she said.



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