The Protagonist: Amateur Writers and “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon”

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Books, Uncategorized.


Mark Phair

NaNoWriMo, which describes its rigorous program as “Thirty Days and Thirty Nights of Literary Abandon,” may sound like a carefree, hallucinogenic-fueled retreat for the literarily ambitious, but the group has more of a take-no-prisoners approach.  

Mark Phair is a software developer and new father in Seattle, who dreams of days spent splitting his time between his programming day job and his love of writing, filmmaking and podcasting.

Molly Watson, also Seattle-based, is a website designer who hopes to someday be published and make a career of telling stories.

While Phair has a longstanding love of writing — he wrote his first short story in the third grade — he has amassed extensive training for a full-time software job he enjoys, and acknowledges his dream, while ideal, is not currently feasible.

That’s why Phair participates in NaNoWriMo, or November’s National Novel Writing Month, the annual, month-long program for writers and non-writers from every walk of life, and all over the world, who want to try their hand at writing a rapid-fire novel. For some, the fast pace and quantity over quality attitude is just the motivation they need.

Watson, currently unemployed, decided this was the year for her to give NaNoWriMo a shot as well.

“I’m looking for full-time employment,” she said. “Adding a positive activity like writing every day helps break-up the daily grind of writing cover letters and scouring the wastes of Craigslist.”

Of the 36,843 participants who produced the requisite respective 50,000 words last year by the November 30 deadline, the organization’s website explains: “They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.” Beyond the minimum word count, NaNoWriMo does not have too many requirements of its writers, and aims to make the process as fun and communal as possible.

NaNoWriMo is far from easy though. Phair says he’s attempted it already four or five times, resulting in several unfinished novels. He also describes the difficulty in balancing his life during the writing process, learning to get over the guilt associated with not writing. Even in responding to my interview questions, Phair confessed: “I can’t help but feel like I should be writing right now.”

Watson echoed the difficulty for an amateur writer in striking a balance. “I did a few warm-up days,” she explained. “Each time I’d sit down to write and feel instantly blank. I kept remembering the 40 or 50 other things that I just HAD to do. I’d type out the first sentence, and flee to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for distraction.”

She also worries it may be too late to live out her dream. “I’m far too old (29) to start being a writer now anyway, so what’s the

Molly Watson

point?” said Watson.

Despite the setbacks, Watson describes breakthroughs in the process as well: “You have an inkling that maybe what you’re writing isn’t the greatest thing ever, or is quite possibly the worst thing ever, but you don’t really care, because it’s just so much FUN.”

Organizers encourage writers — everywhere from Kenya to Tuscaloosa — to meet with other “wrimos” in their area and bond over the often-laborious writing process.

“That’s one of the truly unique things about NaNoWriMo,” said Watson. “There’s such a sense of community and belonging.”

Phair’s writing community consists of colleagues he’s convinced to write with him over their work hour at lunch. With them, he tosses around lines and ideas from his novel — his current story most closely resembles the Illuminatis trilogy, which he calls his favorite read.

It’s what Phair describes as “zany conspiracy with a (un?)healthy dose of parody and satire.”

Phair may not quit his day job and become a professional writer any time soon, but in the meantime, he finds ways to fuse his love of writing with his knack for technology.

“I’m such a geek that I often write programs to support my writing,” explained Phair. “This year, so far, I’ve written a program to help me keep track of (inside the frame of the story) how many days until the apocalypse. The biggest number it’s needed to spit out so far is 723,077.”

And, it’s worth mentioning, you don’t just have to be a Seattle tech-person to find your literary stride with NaNoWriMo.

Alissa Fleck 

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