So you think you can write a novel?

Book writing challenge inspires future authors to put pen to paper, but that’s only half the battle

Christine Beyleveldt // News Editor

Alicia Neptune writes in the morning on the SkyTrain during her commute to work. It’s rarely enough to hit her target word count each day, especially when her be-all and end-all is to write 50,000 words before the end of November. The Communication student is currently taking the semester off to complete her practicum at Western Living and Vancouver Magazine, but she also makes time to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every year.

NaNoWriMo evolved from a group of friends who wanted to motivate themselves to write, dating back to 1999. Today, it’s a non-profit community that helps aspiring novelists untangle complicated plots and provides inspiration when writer’s block sets in. Even though the premise is simple, write 50,000 words in 30 days, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Neptune noted that participants fall into one of two categories, planners, like herself, and pants-ers, who fly by the seat of their pants through the month armed with nothing more than an idea at the start. Neptune typically starts plotting in mid-September or early October. “If you give yourself six to eight weeks it’s usually enough time to get some character notes together,” she said. “It’s also enough time to scrap your idea and chose something else.”

She brainstorms bits and pieces of her plot, but spends more time developing her characters and settings, usually printing pictures so she can visualize them better. She totes a notebook with her everywhere, and counted on her fingers the number of notebooks she had in her backpack currently weighing her down.

“In my bag right now I think I have one book, my journal, two notebooks plus my NaNoWriMo notebook, so my bag’s really heavy,” she said, with a laugh. This year, Neptune chose to write about modern witchcraft, upon finding her inspiration in a Tumblr thread during the summer, involving a community of practicing witches. “I tend to follow a lot of writing prompt blogs,” she said, “And there was controversy because someone had not ethically sourced their bones for their spells.”

NaNoWriMo prompts participants to avoid the temptation to edit as they write, because they need to write over 1,600 words every day on average if they hope to succeed. Neptune has participated every year since 2011, only completing the daunting challenge twice while she was still a student in high school.

After crossing the finish line on Nov. 30, Neptune sets her project aside for several weeks, and when she goes back to look at her work, that is the first time she gets into her own mind. On the first round of editing she takes longhand notes, decides whether or not the structure of her novel works for her, and fills in the holes in the plot. “I have a beginning, and then I have lots of middle-ish bits and then I have a sort of vague ending that might not be my actual ending,” she said.

In the first novel she wrote in 2011, she describes as being the closest to a completed manuscript after having done three major revisions over the years. “If I was going to finish any of them it would be that one, because sometimes you find characters that just stick with you,” she said. “If I finish NaNoWriMo and don’t think about those characters anymore, it’s probably not meant to be a novel.” But she doesn’t expect to produce a finished product without extensive revision.

Despite the possibility of not reaching her goal at the end of the month, Neptune considers herself successful if she writes more than she would have written otherwise, and plans to continue tackling the challenge each year that it presents itself.

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