Edmonton NaNo community starts counting words

Over the next 30 days, Edmontonians will become well-acquainted with their word processors of choice as they attempt to write 50,000-word stories during National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

Across six continents, the challenge motivates what founder Chris Baty calls “one day novelists” — anyone who has ever uttered the phrase, “[When I have time], one day I’ll write a novel.”

EdmoWrimo Literary Ninjas
The EdmoWrimo Literary Ninjas are Edmonton’s local National Novel Writing Month community. Photo courtesy EdmoWrimo Literary Ninjas

In Edmonton, municipal liaison Crystal Yoner works with a co-organizer to encourage those one day novelists (locally the EdmoWrimo Literary Ninjas), organizing structured writing events and providing support (and sometimes distractions to get writers’ minds off their novels-in-progress).

Yoner has completed the challenge every year but twice since starting in 2002, although since she became a municipal liaison in 2011, she admitted that her November writing habits have become a bit more erratic.

“At the time, I was writing long (short-story length) fiction that had no purpose or clear endings and many, many, many unfinished stories sitting on my computer,” Yoner wrote in an email. “I was intrigued by the amount of words needed, and the opportunity to write a truly long piece of fiction.

“At the time I couldn’t really comprehend how many words 50K really was; I think the longest piece I had written up until then was 14K of disjointed scenes. The first year was very short-lived and I dropped out just a few days into the challenge, only to come back the next year determined to complete it. I’m still working on the ‘beginning to end’ part, however.”

She explained that “winning” is considered hitting 50,000 and validating the word count on the NaNoWriMo site, while “finishing” is when a piece has a beginning, middle and end, regardless of a 50,000-or-higher word count.

It’s one thing to reach 50,000 words and still have to wrap up the narrative, but a bit more of a problem when the end of the story arrives before the 50K finish line. It happens — participant Arnold Emmanuel ran into that problem in his first year, 10 years ago.

“My bad guy was killed and I found myself at 40K,” Emmanuel wrote in an email. “I did everything in my story outline, so I did what I don’t normally do. I improvised. I came out of my comfort zone, also passed 50K, and found that those last words were the best part of my novel.

“The great thing about having your story finished before 50K is it forces you to solve a problem. What can I do to extend the story? Throw in a rapping rabbit. Yes, it’s silly, but in that silliness something will come out of it. It’s like musicians jamming for a session. Also, after NaNo you can cut out the rapping rabbit, if you really want to.”

Like Emmanuel, there are a lot of participants celebrating their 10th NaNoWriMo anniversary this year, Yoner said — last year, Edmonton had nearly 600 NaNoWriMo participants, with about 20 per cent hitting the 50,000-word goal. The first event she attended in 2003 was in a university-area coffee shop, but they soon had to move out of public spaces to accommodate the number of people attending. Now, Edmonton Public Library is an integral piece to the EdmoWrimo Literary Ninjas’ success, providing program room space for the official writing events.

The exercise thrives because of the diverse population of writers in Edmonton — from high school students to published authors, said Emmanuel, while Yoner added that there’s a heavy bias among the city’s writers towards speculative fiction. Both Emmanuel and Yoner noted that over the years, a core group of veterans has stuck with it, while the overall culture and attendees shift slightly — and they’re all getting a bit older too, Emmanuel added.

“A lot of the teenagers that I started with are now in their 20s,” he said. “There was a time when someone reached a benchmark, say, 20,000 words, and there would be a dance party. Now there’s clapping. Though once in a while someone will start their own dance party.”

“Also, the MLs, the ones who run the Edmonton NaNo community, are passionate about what they do. They love writing, they love creating and they love being crazy.”

Once the hectic pace of November is over, some people put their documents away, never to see the light of day again, while others complete and workshop their pieces, albeit after a bit of a break, Yoner said.

She’s formed strong friendships with people she’s met in the NaNoWriMo community, she said, and would like to see a year-round writing event or group form, especially for participants who are interested in publishing their work (something which recently happened for a few people).

“I try to remind people that this is a self-challenge, and even a ‘fail’ is still a win,” she said. “Did you write more words in November than you otherwise would have? Win! Did you discover something about yourself and how you write? Win! Win or ‘lose,’ we’ll be here next year to welcome you back and cheer you on again.”

(Note: to achieve 50,000 words, approximately another 60 articles of this length — 838 words — would have to be written in the next 30 days.)

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