The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

The School Newspaper of Winston Churchill High School.

The Observer

Novel writing competition challenges students, teachers

 On Halloween, instead of trick-or-treating with my friends, I was finishing my NaNoWriMo story outline.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an annual online challenge that attracts hundreds of thousands of participants. Aspiring writers, such as first-time participant sophomore Kim Rooney and AP Psychology teacher Jared Pulliam, and professional writers alike try to write a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November.

“It’s pretty stressful working on NaNo,” Rooney said. “I didn’t start on the first day, so I had a lot of writing to do over the weekend to make up for that. Still, it’s worth it. I love writing, and I love a challenge, so this is a perfect mix of the two.”

Pulliam has won NaNo twice (a winner being anyone who reaches the target word count in time) since he began participating four years ago, but writing has been a part of his life ever since childhood—he once hoped to pursue it as a career.

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“I gave up on the idea when I went to college and was instead hell-bent on being successful and doing ‘the right thing,’” Pulliam said. “Our society has a way of thinking of artists as cop-outs and those who pursue art as people who are not applying themselves.”

I participated and won NaNo last year, and I intend to do so again this year, despite an even busier November schedule than in 2011.

Despite the crazy, insensible mess of a manuscript NaNo often chokes out, some people have received literary success after publishing their NaNo novels. The most well-known example is Sara Gruen, whose Water for Elephants was adapted into a film starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. Regardless, the hope of publication and literary stardom is rarely the reason people attempt NaNo.

“NaNo motivates me as a writer because other people have completed it, which means that I can complete it if I work hard enough,” Rooney said. “Still, it’ll probably end up inspiring me even more after I finish because I feel like if I can finish this, there’s no excuse for me to give up on any other stories I’m working on.”

NaNo authors produce novels of all kinds and genres. My story is an epic fantasy with kings, necromancers and assassination conspiracies. Rooney plans to tell the tale of a traveling carnival whose ringmaster steals its summer workers’ souls. Pulliam is writing about a small town that suffers from a violent attack, and the families of those lost who must cope with the aftermath.

From Nov. 1 to 30, or until I reach 50,000, I’m maintaining a log of daily word counts, story updates and whether I’m cracking under pressure from school and other aspects of real life. Included are the daily word counts of fellow wrtiers Rooney and Pulliam.

Day 1:

I woke up with a cold. That seriously impeded my flow of thought in the morning. Fortunately, I felt much better around lunchtime, and I managed to arrange the meeting of my two main characters, Corinne and Aidon. I also made a new goal to beat Mr. Pulliam in NaNo. Whether or not he knows I am racing him is a different story. Most Wrimos use the NaNo website to update word counts, but Pulliam has forgone that, so I’m receiving daily updates directly from him instead.

Lee: 2,653

Rooney: 0

Pulliam: 1,800

Day 2:

My protagonist, Corinne, meets a fortune teller, and I ended up wasting precious NaNo time creating my own version of tarot. This happened around 11:50 p.m., so I was frantically trying to access the NaNo website to update my word count. But a bunch of other Wrimos seem to have been trying to do the same thing at the same time, because the site took forever to load. By the time I managed to get on, it was already past twelve. Drat.

Lee: 4,448

 Rooney: 0

Pulliam: 4,300

Day 5:

This long weekend came at an opportune moment for me NaNo-wise. I finished this unit’s Psych reading, completed the third act of Hamlet and toodled on my clarinet for a bit, and I still had the entire afternoon and evening to work on my novel. Now all I have to do is figure out how medieval marriage arrangements work.

Lee: 16,815

Rooney: 6,482

Pulliam: 8,100

Day 6:

Corinne and Aidon are acting so lovey-dovey and sweet, it’s giving me cavities. Surprisingly, I like it. I usually try to steer clear of romance scenes in my writing, but NaNo brings out the worst in me, apparently.

Lee: 21,425

Rooney: 12,005

Pulliam: 10,600

Day 7:

I discovered, to my relief, that Corinne is not a Mary-Sue. A Mary-Sue is a female character who is flawless and awesome, and everyone around her loves her, often at the cost of alienating readers. The speed and craziness of NaNo means sacrificing literary depth for the sake of word counts, so I’m happy to see I’ve managed to add some flaws, namely self-centeredness and being spoiled, to Corinne in order to round out her character.

Lee: 25,325

Rooney: 15,127

Pulliam: 10,600

Day 10:

Saturdays are usually good NaNo days for me. I had to practice clarinet and did some parallel parking, though, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get as much writing done as I wanted. In the end, I pulled through (my word count surged during the 11 o’clock hour), and Corinne reunited with Aidon after a short separation (unfortunately for them, I couldn’t resist throwing a sour note in their meeting).

Lee: 34,029

Rooney: 20,040

Pulliam: 14,800

Day 12:

While on campus at a college I was visiting,  I sat in on one of the college’s freshman writing seminars. The professor passed out an information sheet on the eight steps to properly structure any kind of story. So far I’m doing pretty well. On the bus ride home, they played a Heath Ledger movie, so I didn’t get as much writing done as the day before. But I did give Corinne a new pet kitten to make up for her new nemesis.

Lee: 41,040

Rooney: 24,566

Pulliam: 17,600

Day 14:

My school club has some important dates coming up, so I devoted a lot of time to finalizing details and getting ready for our upcoming events. That’s two days in a row I haven’t met the recommended daily par of 1,667 words. I probably won’t beat last year’s NaNo time (I reached 50,000 on Day 17), but I’m still way ahead of the total average. Today, Corinne’s bodyguard gave her a self-defense lesson, which involved pointy sticks and rotten tomatoes.

Lee: 43,606

Rooney: 32,624

Pulliam: 21,900

Day 16:

We’re studying Hamlet in AP Lit. right now. I think it’s getting to me. I accidentally wrote a line from Hamlet into my novel today. Corinne, meanwhile, gets to play with Aidon’s kid brother, Winston, who’s kind of a snot. But he’s six-years-old, so it’s okay. He’s in the preoperational stage, so he’s egocentric. (Oh, Psych, not you, too!)

Lee: 47,816

Rooney: 35,224

Pulliam: 23,500

Day 17:

NaNoWriMo, I am your champion. And I finished on the exact same day as last year. Just in time, too. I’m starting to go nuts. But to be honest, I’ll probably keep at my novel for the rest of the month—or even longer if necessary—until it’s complete. Corinne and Aidon’s relationship is on tenterhooks right now, and evil little me is planning on making it even worse. To be continued?

Lee: 50,090

Rooney: 39,101

Pulliam: 23,500

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Novel writing competition challenges students, teachers