Youth services director at Forest Park Public Library, Susan Farnum.

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You can write a novel, and you can do it in a month. 

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people across the world, most of them amateur authors, participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the goal of which is to complete a 50,000-word book in 30 days.

In November 2017, according to the NaNoWriMo website, 306,230 writers around the world participated. 

This year, at least three local writers will be participating in NaNoWriMo.

Susan Farnum, Youth Services manager at the Forest Park Public Library, plans to complete NaNoWriMo this year. She has participated three times but never reached the 50,000-word goal. Farnum’s changing her process, this year, though.

NaNoWriMo writers can be broadly separated into two categories: plotters, who outline their novel before they begin and “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants. Although Farnum used to be a plotter, this year she’s going to just start writing and allow the characters and story to develop on their own.

“I have a grain of an idea,” said Farnum. “I’m going to go with the flow and not overthink it too much. I don’t know everything that’s going to happen, and I’m going to let the characters evolve.”

She plans to make writing a priority. “I’m going to make an appointment with myself every day,” she said. “I’ll block off time every single day to write. And for the month of November, there’s no day off.”

Taking a day off means catching up when you get back to the book, and the more days you miss, the more daunting it feels to get the words written.

Farnum is working on a middle-grade, magical-realism novel, a genre she said feels “nostalgic” to her. She’s been reading a lot of young adult fiction lately, and in her job she focuses on books geared toward younger children. This is a chance for her to try something new.

“NaNoWriMo is a chance for people to recapture some of their childhood,” she said. “Adults need to remember they have permission to dream. Anything is possible.”

Forest Park resident Anna Felicity Friedman is not new to writing — her work has appeared in numerous magazines and she’s published a non-fiction book, World Atlas of Tattoo — but this is her first time participating in NaNoWriMo and her first time writing fiction. 

She was inspired to try recently when writing the introduction for an art/lit book project. The piece was more creative than the nonfiction she typically writes.

“It was scary, but I was pleased and proud of the outcome,” said Friedman.

For her NaNoWriMo project, she plans to write memoir-based fiction.

“I want to distill life experience into fiction,” said Friedman, who plans to focus less on making the book perfect during November and just getting it onto the page. “I’ll vomit it out and clean it up later,” she added.

Friedman is hosting a Wednesday evening meet-up for local writers participating in NaNoWriMo. “I like the shared accountability of meetings,” she said. The first one will be held at Charlie’s on Roosevelt Road on Nov. 6 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Heather Vickery will be participating in NaNoWriMo for the second year, and though she didn’t finish last year, she said, “Come hell or high water” she will this year.

“I’m scared but exceedingly excited,” she said. She plans to write a “memoir-esque” book, tentatively titled, “The Gift of My Mother.” 

Like Farnum, she plans to “make space” for her daily writing in November. 

Vickery quoted Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art: “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

“It’s important to be flexible,” she added. “I need to maneuver through boundaries to make it happen.” 

Vickery, a success and leadership coach who is also the producer and host of the popular podcast The Brave Files, is a published author. Her second book, coming out on Dec. 3, is called “Grow Grateful – Gratitude Journal for Kids and Families,” and will be available on Amazon.com as well as locally at the Forest Park Hallmark store and at the Book Table in Oak Park. 

“It’s about finding beauty and gratitude even when life isn’t pretty,” Vickery said.

NaNoWriMo began in 1999 and has grown since. The nonprofit, in addition to hosting the annual November event, provides free access to robust online discussion boards, word count tracking for writers, and motivational tips from successful writers. Famous books have come out of NaNoWriMo, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Wool by Hugh Howey.

The organization also hosts local groups run through volunteers and sponsors year-round activities to promote writing for all ages, including the Young Writers Program and Camp Nano over the summer. Learn more or sign up at nanowrimo.org.

And if writing 50,000 words in one month seems overwhelming, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re producing the first draft, not a final version. Hemingway is often quoted as saying, “The first draft of anything is rubbish” (whether he said “rubbish” is up for debate). At any rate, he knew that getting thoughts down on paper is the first step in writing a book. Many other writers agree. Nora Roberts has echoed those sentiments in saying, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

If you’re a Forest Park writer participating in NaNoWriMo this November, please contact maria@forestparkreview.com.