By Catherine Gregoire
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—the time when serious novelists get down to business and write an entire novel in one month—is upon us. Writers from all around the world join together to take on this ambitious challenge that gives them a reason (and no excuses!) to write that book they’ve been dreaming, planning, outlining, and putting off.
Writing is a solitary exercise, but this collective challenge means you’re not alone. The Writer's Center will be here to encourage and spur you on with prompts from our novel instructors, links to resources and excerpts from novels written by our workshop participants. The Center will also follow, me, Catherine Gregoire, marketing and communications intern, during my own NaNoWriMo efforts to finish a novel this month.
Don’t miss all the great resources on Twitter #NaNoWriMo or the official program webpage http://nanowrimo.org/. And please send us updates on your own progress, ideas, and inspiration for others.
To kick off NaNoWriMo, I chatted with Susan Coll, leader the Novel Year Program at The Writer’s Center. She has written several novels, including Acceptance and Beach Week. Her latest, The Stager, is a comedy of rabbits and real estate in the D.C. suburbs. I asked her how she works, what advice she has for novelists, and she gave us prompts to get started during this special month.
Catherine Gregoire: What inspired the story of your latest novel?
Susan Coll: The inspiration for this novel was simple—before putting my house on the market, I was advised to hire a professional home stager. Her task was to strip the house of personality, to make it so that other families could envision themselves living there. This struck me as a concept rich in metaphor: the way we create illusions about how we live, with shiny facades meant to obscure the dysfunction inside. I knew immediately that this would be my next novel. For me, finding inspiration is generally easy; it’s the rest that is a challenge—developing a plot and a cast of characters and making the story come alive.
CG: How do you motivate yourself to keep writing?
SC: I break it down into small chunks and force myself to do just a little bit each day. Even if I’m only slapping 500 words a day onto the page, and even if they are a total mess, I find that once the scaffolding is up, the process of going back to fill in the pieces becomes more rewarding.
CG: What advice can you share with those participating in NaNoWriMo?
SC: Take the long view. Use the month to get as many words on the page as possible, but then take all the time you need to polish. Sometimes it takes days to get a thought or sentence just right, and it’s worth the effort. That’s the part that you can’t do in a month.
Feeling the grips of writer’s block? Take some inspiration from Susan Coll’s novel prompts:
Your protagonist has just about hit rock bottom. Unemployed, broke, and jealous of what she perceives to be the more perfect lives of her friends, she spends too much time trolling social media, where she is a lurker, not a poster. One day on Facebook an ad pops up. “Improve your life in ten easy steps. Money back guaranteed!” This has to be a scam. She clicks on the link anyway.
Your spouse, who works for the Homeland Security Agency, has been behaving strangely. He has used duct tape to cover the lenses on all of the home computers, has drawn the shades on all of the windows, and has insisted you hand over your cell phone so that he can destroy it. Fortunately you left it at work. He does not seem to be delusional, but nor do you believe there is any kind of actual threat. And what are all of those papers that you have been trying not to really notice in the trunk of his car? What’s going on with him?
Take advantage of this month of NaNoWriMo to set in motion your dream by penning that next bestseller. Who knows, you could be stumbling upon something great, something new, and something worth telling! We at The Writer’s Center wish you happy writing!