On your mark, get set, go write a novel

Catharine Schaidle

Think you can write a 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time?

Students, web designers, dentists and people all over central Illinois are gearing up for the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, challenge, which starts Nov. 1.

More than 140 people from the Greater Peoria Area have already signed on for the annual event, said local coordinator Cheri Nordstrom, a Metamora Township High School alum.

The Boston Globe reported that in 2007, more than 96,000 adults across 73 countries registered to start and finish a 50,000-word novel in 30 days as part of NaNoWriMo.

On its Web site, NaNoWriNo founder Chris Baty offers some tongue-in-cheek reasons for participating: "To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work."

For Rae Rein, a junior political science major at Illinois Wesleyan University who participated for the last two years, the event gave him a sense of accomplishment: "The two most important parts of writing are practice and finishing things," he said in an e-mail. "If you don't constantly write, you immediately lose the flow and the feel of the words, how they should fit together, how it all should sound when you read it back."

Mossville Grade School teacher Bryan Holmes thinks it's a great idea. For the second year, he has signed up all of the school's fourth-graders for the project. The students will do all their writing in school.

"They're going to write anywhere from 3,000 to 8,000 words and they set their own individual targets. We did it last year, and it was a very exciting project," said Holmes, who also plans to write a novel in November.

Timm Gillick, a web designer from Washington, said he tried it last year and although he didn't complete his novel, "It was a lot of fun."

Jodie Slothower of Bloomington joined the Peoria group last year and enjoyed it so much she formed a group in Bloomington-Normal that met Wednesday night to launch its writing event.

The Peoria group is planning an entire day of writing to kick off this year's event. From midnight to 2 a.m. there will be an online write-in, where writers will meet in the group's chat lounge, on its MySpace page at From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the group will be writing at Apple's Bakery on Knoxville Avenue.

Nordstrom also is planning an evening pizza party with the coordinators of Kewanee and Bloomington/Normal.

"Obviously participation in any of the events is optional, but I imagine a few of us will be excited enough to attend all three," she said.

Anyone 13 or older can get involved with NaNoWriMo activities, even if they can't attend the group meetings. There is no cost. Once you've set up an account at, you can keep track of your word counts, join forums, get tips from others and discuss your progress.

Catharine Schaidle can be reached at (309) 686-3290