Shawn Langwell

National Novel Writing Month – Crank Out the Words

For most, November is the start of the holiday season, the true onset of chillier weather and earlier darkness, a time to cocoon and nest. But for over 300,000 writers across the country and globe, it is a time to hunker down over their keyboards for the annual challenge of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

The concept is simple. To “win,” a writer must meet the goal of 50,000 words by midnight on Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words a day. Through NaNoWriMo’s website (, writers can post their word counts, find other writers in their home region, hook up with writing buddies, find “write-in” events, and read pep talks to stay inspired. By the end of the month, each writer must paste the entire text of his or her novel into the site to be validated.

Sonoma County has a host of writers participating this year, most of them repeat performers. I spoke to a few this past week. Marie Millard of Rohnert Park, a music teacher and Facebook page manager for businesses, is returning for her third year, writing a romantic comedy. Michelle Murrain, a relationship coach from Healdsburg, is also coming back for her third year, writing a science fiction novel. Odin Halvorson of Sebastopol, an independent film editor and college student, who has been writing NaNoWriMo novels since 2006, is penning a sci-fi novel this year. In Cloverdale, Roger Lubeck has logged 11 years of November novel writing. He’s trying out a Western in 2014 for the first time. Georgette deBlois, a retired woman in Santa Rosa, has been leading writing groups for NaNoWriMo for the past seven years. And there’s a husband and wife team jumping on board, too – Crissi and Shawn Langwell of Petaluma. Crissi Langwell is the online content producer for the Press Democrat, and has done NaNoWriMo for five years. Her husband, a sales and marketing manager, is a first-timer.

Does knowing that thousands of other people are writing at the same time help? Halvorson said the structure of NaNoWriMo is a benefit. “Going to write-ins with fellow writers, socializing with people who are interested in literature and generally intelligent, spending time on the forums when they’re active, and getting caught up in the race to the ‘finish line’ does all string together into a really enjoyable experience that you don’t usually find when just writing on your own.”

When asked where they liked to write, authors said they had a wide range. My desk, the pool, my car, coffee shops (Shawn Colvin); at home in bed, at a coffee shop (Crissi Langwell); at home in my office (Lubeck); at coffee shops, or anywhere and everywhere, from home to the middle of the woods (Halvorson).

deBlois hosts a weekly writing group at the Warm Puppy Cafe at the ice skating rink in Santa Rosa. The sessions begin with a discussion about writing experiences or craft, then everyone writes together. She loves that the group is “a serious, no nonsense, pleasant, fun atmosphere.” deBlois emphasizes that NaNoWriMo is not a class about how to write a novel. “It really does not matter if you’re a beginner, advanced or published author. Inspiration and imagination know no boundaries.”

But can you really produce a good novel in a month? There have been some notable success stories, such as Sara Gruen’s novel “Water for Elephants,” which started out as a NaNoWriMo project. What about our local writers? Crissi Langwell wrote her first novel outside of NaNoWriMo, but she has used it since then to write her other books. She is releasing a new series this year, combining magic and desserts. She does admit that her November novels require more editing, but “I love the sense of urgency during NaNoWriMo. It keeps me on my toes to keep writing, and forces me into a routine. There’s no time to be lazy or succumb to writer’s block. And I love the sense of community.”

Lubeck has turned four of his NaNoWriMo books into self-published novels, and Murrain has published two. For others, like deBlois, publishing isn’t the goal. “I just like to write.”

What advice would these authors give to someone considering giving NaNoWriMo a try? Murrain said, “Go for it. It’s nice to win (make the 50,000 words), but it’s really all about doing it, giving yourself the permission, to spark the creative flow.” Lubeck said, “If you need to plan or plot, do that in October. Don’t let plotting get in the way of writing.” And Millard said, “Don’t quit if you’re behind. Finishing a novel on Dec. 15 is still pretty satisfying!”

Halvorson’s words are simple. “Write – just write. Ignore everything that says you can’t do it, focus on the pieces of the story you want to tell, and tell it....You are creating fantastic art, and that is the most beautiful thing any human being can do.”

Michelle Wing is a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction, and the author of “Body on the Wall,” a collection of poetry, and co-editor of the anthology “Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence.” She has deep roots in community journalism, and serves on the board of both Redwood Writers and the Healdsburg Literary Guild. Michelle lives in Cloverdale with her wife and a menagerie. She is assisted in all her creative endeavors by her service dog Ripley.

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