A group of Sunshine Coast authors have turned the page on creative writing as a lonely discipline. Over a dozen wordsmiths are participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge by gathering every day throughout November to make headway on multifarious manuscripts.
NaNoWriMo was instituted in 1999 as National Novel Writing Month by a freelance author in San Francisco. Last year, 413,295 writers worldwide participated in the organization’s programs, including over 50,000 writers who met goals to become “NaNoWriMo winners” (earning a T-shirt in the process).
The event is sponsored locally by the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society. In 2022, the society encouraged writers to produce a daily quota of 1,600 words by holding weekly meetings in area coffee shops.
“Writing is seen as a solitary activity,” said society president Cathalynn Labonté-Smith. “I think that’s a very old model. In a modern model it can be collaborative. Not that we’re working on each other’s stories, but often we need and we give each other lots of ideas and solutions for roadblocks that might come into it.”
This year, Labonté-Smith is coordinating daily drop-in gatherings at libraries and coffee shops across the Sunshine Coast. A coterie of up to a dozen scribes labour in silence, tapping lightly on notebook computers and quietly announcing the completion of personal milestones. Facilitators like Rissa Johnson, herself an editor and published poet, set the pace and welcome newcomers.
“There’s a lot of flexibility within the NaNoWriMo tradition,” explained Johnson, “as long as you’re engaging with words and your work.”
The worldwide community of NaNoWriMo participants opens doors to connections across six continents. Doris Good, who plans to finish a 100,000-word novel by the end of December, partnered with a New York-based playwright with a similarly-ambitious goal. The two stay in touch and compare daily output.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Rains, who teaches editing at Simon Fraser University, is using the regular meetings to refine a 14,000-word manuscript that she drafted during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“This is the very last of it,” she said. “It’s a science fiction romance that I compare to the Time Traveler’s Wife. It combines a few genres, and goes into deep history and into the future, talking a lot about the Sunshine Coast including Grandma’s Pub and Roberts Creek.”
Heon Yup Yi, a recent immigrant from South Korea, is composing his autobiography in a way that will be instructive to other newcomers to Canada. “There are a lot of immigrants to Canada and I’ve provided a lot of information and how to solve their problems,” he said, “and I also offer some fun to the reader.”
Poet Rosa Reid, who has previously been short-listed for CBC’s literary competition, is also preparing a memoir. She observes that the biggest challenge is avoiding the temptation to become mired in edits. “I’m going through [my text] all the time,” she said. “But just editing sentences doesn’t get the numbers up.”
From across the Mainil Room at the Gibsons and District Public Library, Doris Good admonished Reid: “No editing in NaNoWriMo, Rosa. Just get it done!”
A schedule of drop-in writing sessions is published on the website of the Sunshine Coast Writers and Editors Society at scwes.ca. Participation in the daily meetings is free and does not require membership.