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A novel November

Local writers try their hand at National Novel Writing Month

By Caroline Zilk

Sunday, November 14, 2010

— For the 11th year in a row, writers across the River Valley and Ozark area are hunched behind their computers drinking massive amounts of coffee and running through stories as fast as their fingers will carry them.

“When my sister first heard about this, she thought I was crazy,” Bigelow resident Becca Cougill said.

Cougill, a mother of six, is participating in National Novel Writing Month for the fifth consecutive year.

NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge to write a 175-page (50,000 word) novel during the month of November each year.

“Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved,” the program’s website states.

Cougill fell into the category of “fleetingly thinking about writing a novel” when she began participating in the program five years ago.

She started the project late and was not able to complete the 50,000-word challenge, but it’s gotten easier with time.

“I just lock myself in a room and tell my kids not to knock on the door unless the house is burning down,” Cougill said.

And now some of her children are participating in the writing project as well.

“We are all in it together, and if you don’t hit your word count, you hear about it,” Cougill said.

By “word count,” she means a goal or target number of words written each day.

The magic number is 1,667. If a NaNoWriMo participant writes a minimum of 1,667 words per day for 30 days, he or she can complete the challenge.

Cougill said it may sound intimidating, but anyone can do it.

“When you break it down that way, it’s not nearly the obstacle you think it is,” she said.

Writing a novel doesn’t necessarily mean locking yourself in a room, either.

Writers who participate in NaNoWriMo are often in constant contact on the website’s buzzing forum, on Twitter and in the “real world” as well.

Launch parties were held at midnight on Nov. 1 in Conway, Russellville and throughout the state.

“Write-ins” are also a popular activity for writers during which a group of writers gathers in a predetermined location to write together.

The Conway group will hold write-ins at Mazzio’s Pizza on Washington Avenue in Conway from 6-9 p.m. each Tuesday.

Most groups meet at coffee shops, bookstores or libraries, but Cougill said Mazzio’s is the perfect spot for a write-in in Conway.

“It’s rarely busy, and they have a nice little room where you can sit and write and eat pizza if you want,” she said. “It works for me.”

Just as writers can connect with each other based on their location, they can connect based on which genre of story they’re writing.

This year, Cougill’s novel is a murder-mystery. She is trying to stray a bit from the romance theme in her past novels.

Cougill said she wouldn’t mind having one of her NaNoWriMo novels published some day.

But that’s not true of everyone who writes a novel in November. And according to the folks in charge, maybe it shouldn’t be.

“Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap,” the website states. “And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”

For more information, visit www.nanowrimo.org.