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National Novel Writing Month inspires Creighton writers

So it’s National Novel Writing Month.

Or NaNoWriMo for the cognoscenti — or even for those who just have a touch of the poet… er, novelist.

No doubt you’re already several thousand words into your 2016 offering to the novelistic gods, but even if you’re not, says Creighton University professor of English and novelist Brent Spencer, PhD, there’s no time like the present to just start writing.

“There’s such a spirit behind NaNoWriMo that moves me,” said Spencer who, though he’s not properly writing a novel during the month, is still using November to write and refine parts of a new novel he hopes to complete soon and which, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, he wrote in about a year of bouncing around area coffee shops. “And the reason I’m interested in it is that it tells people, ‘You can do this.’ Writing a novel is not just for professors or creative geniuses.”

National Novel Writing Month — which got its start in 1999 — is just what it says it is: a month to write a novel of about 50,000 words. The event is meant to get participants hooked on a writing habit and, to that end, the event is not hoping to discover the nation’s next Ernest Hemingway or Toni Morrison.

Rather, as Grant Faulkner, NaNoWriMo’s executive director said, the event is meant to tap into the creativity all human beings share, and to show that everyone’s story matters.

“Too many people think they’re not a ‘creative type,’ but to be human is to be a ‘creative type,’” Faulkner said in opening this year’s event. “NaNoWriMo teaches you to believe that your story matters, to trust the gambols of your imagination, and to make the blank page a launching pad to explore new universes. That’s important because when we create, we cultivate meaning. Our stories remind us that we’re alive, and what being alive means.”

Last year, more than 430,000 people took part in NaNoWriMo, writing well over 2.5 billion words. About 40,000 people achieved the 50,000-word goal in 2015, including LeeAnn Adams, a second-year student in Creighton’s Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program.

“It’s a great way to promote writing and reading and an everyman vision of being a writer,” said Adams, who is taking part in her third NaNoWriMo this November. “NaNoWriMo makes writing feel less elitist. Computer programmers write novels during the month. People who are involved in the sciences write. And whether it’s good writing or bad writing doesn’t matter. Just get in there and see what you can do.”

That “just do it” advice resonated with Spencer, too, who said too many people — novelists included — think that act of writing a novel has to come in one fell swoop.

“I’m like a lot of writers and I can out-think myself and agonize over the writing or make it too precious,” he said. “What NaNoWriMo does is remind you that you just need the words to start. Keep those fingers moving on the keyboard. There’s no such thing as a block — you can edit later. Just deliver the words. And nobody I’ve talked to who has done it has said, ‘Well, I wrote it and it’s a work of genius.’ What it provides you is an opportunity to just write. You can work on the finer points later. For now, just get it down.”

Adams echoed that advice and said the word counts are simply guideposts. The real aim of NaNoWriMo, in her thinking, is to establish a writing habit.

“You can write 2,000 words a day, you can write 100,” she said. “The important thing is that you write today. If you’re not seriously considering publishing a novel, writing can still be a great hobby and an important way of putting words to your story.”

Adams, who also works as a publishing assistant at Tethered by Letters, a nonprofit publisher and writer’s resource, hopes to turn her NaNoWriMo piece for 2016 into a saleable novel. She said the practice the event affords for serious writers is excellent. But even for the inexperienced writer, those 50,000 words can inspire an unparalleled sense of accomplishment.

“For people who just want to give this a try to see if they can write 50,000 words, this event is great at helping them form that writing habit,” she said. “Writing is a great way to get in touch with your story. This doesn’t have to be for other people, it can just be for you — a way to leave behind a record in your own voice. I think it’s kind of beautiful to leave something like that.”

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