Victoria writers embrace national novel writing month

50,000 words, one novel, 30 days

Kali Larsen

Kali Larsen

They write with blinding speed, fuelled by untold gallons of coffee.

Gathered in cafes and late-night fast-food joints, hunched over laptops and iPads, they appear to be students, but most are not. They tap out page after page of text, all seeking to write the great Canadian novel, or at least the greatest novel possible within 30 days.

This is National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWritMo for the initiated or just NaNo – where the singular aim is to binge write what could pass for a novel with at least 50,000 words. There are no winners or losers in this event, just bragging rights and a declaration to the world that, “Yes, I have written a novel.”

Michelle Sillars, for one, has nearly taken up residence at Moka House coffee shop on Hillside Avenue. A “municipal liaison” for NaNo in Victoria for three years, the 23-year-old jewelry maker and three friends sit together at a bench table, each fleshing out their respective plot lines and characters one day into the challenge.

Based on registrations and online chatroom chatter, Sillars estimates 150 to 200 people in Victoria are participating in NaNo, from teens to seniors. With Sillars is Kali Larsen, a 21-year-old University of Victoria political science and religious studies student; Rachel Peterson, 43, an English tutor and freelance editor; and Josh MacLeod, 35, who works at a thrift shop.

Common among this disparate group is an almost obsessive love of writing and the enjoyment of easygoing camaraderie at the coffee shop. The NaNo challenge gives a deadline, structure and a peer network to make the concept of speed-writing a novel less daunting.

“A lot of people say they want to write a novel. NaNo is a kick in the pants to do that,” says Larsen, who is crafting a science fiction story. “I definitely was somebody who said they wanted to be a novelist one day. I thought why not do it in a month?”

Like any group, they’ve created their own lingo – in Victoria’s NaNo world you’re either a “plotter” or a “pantser.” Participants either think ahead and plot their story out months ahead, or fly by the seat of their pants. Peterson says for her, being a plotter is a better path.

“I’m in the outline stage. It’s better than last year when I winged it and did 50,000 words, and the quality might not have been there,” she said. “This second try is more of a deliberate process. We all approach this differently.”

“The longer you do this, the emphasis turns from quantity to quality,” Larsen remarked.

“Some say what matters is quantity, some say what matters is quality. Some never edit, some edit as they go,” MacLeod added.

A group of writers in San Francisco started NaNo in 1999, which morphed into a non-profit educational operation that has spread around the world. Social media has helped connect writers and spread the word to make it a connected, communal event.

Although some professional writers might cringe at an event that measures the finish line at 50,000 words, the goal is to encourage people of any background to embrace literature and storytelling. The four sitting at the Moka House had little formal training, but a desire to be creative.

“I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I started at three years old dictating to my parents. When I was seven I wrote Sailor Moon stories and eventually as a teen original stories,” Sillars said. “Writing is something I’ve always been interested in.”

Peterson, a tutor and an editor, has the most experience with grammar and structure, but found the idea of writing an novel unnerving.

“I started as a little girl writing a diary and poems and doing extra assignments in high school,” she said. “But writing a novel was the one thing that scared me the most, it seemed big and overwhelming. I thought, I’ve got to attack this.”

Some, like MacLeod, don’t have a problem pumping out novel-length work. In the past  four or five years he’s written about 15 books worth of material during NaNo.

“I wrote short stories myself. Now I’ve written far too many novels with NaNo. Some years its been two, three one year. I wouldn’t do that again,” MacLeod said. “They say you have to write a million words before you start writing good words.”

NaNoWritMo runs until Nov. 30.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The construction zone remains for now at Clover Point, but plans for a new pedestrian zone and partially closed traffic loop were approved by Victoria councillors on Thursday. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Victoria council compromises with partial closure of Clover Point

Option preserves parking 14 spots facing ocean, creates more pedestrian space

(Black Press Media file photo)
Trees Cannabis to reignite downtown Victoria location as licensed store

The dispensary will reopen its 230 Cook St. location on Saturday

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Sergeant Francis Dion with the box containing HMCS Calgary’s new secret mascot costume. (HMCSNCSMCalgary/Facebook)
Don Devenney is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Community Builder of the year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore volunteer’s efforts an exercise in adventurous pursuits

Don Devenney is the 2021 recipient of the Community Builder Award

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read