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Get your pens poised for Novel Writing Month in Naperville
By Susan Dibble | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/30/2009 12:01 AM

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If you go

What: National Novel Writing Month kickoff party

When: 11:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31

Where: Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

Info: or

Tim Yao was like a lot of aspiring novelists: He wanted to write, but never got past a few thousand words before he quit.

Not any more.

Yao, the Naperville co-municipal liaison for National Novel Writing Month, has completed a manuscript of at least 50,000 words during the 30 days of November in each of the past six years.

That's what participants love about NaNoWriMo, as they call it - it motivates them to put their dreams on paper by giving them a deadline and support along the way in the form of write-ins, writing challenges and preparatory events.

The writing time clock officially starts Sunday but the Naperville-area group will hold a potluck lunch kickoff party at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, at city hall, 400 S. Eagle St. Anyone with a desire to write a novel is welcome to join.

"People want to write, but it's awfully difficult to write just out of your own initiative," said Yao, a software engineer who crams a lot of his writing into weekends and the Thanksgiving holiday.

"National Novel Writing Month provides an opportunity for people to actually get something done."

True, Yao and most of the participants have yet to see their 30-day masterpieces in print, but more than 30 writers worldwide have had publishing success, Yao said. Sara Gruen's New York Times best-seller, "Water for Elephants," began as a NaNoWriMo novel.

"I have hope of being published someday," said Yao, who has started a fantasy series but admits he needs to work more on his revisions.

Katherine Lato of Warrenville, another Naperville co-municipal liaison, said she reworks her stories after the 30-day write-a-thon is over.

"You focus (during November) on word count and getting your basic idea on paper," Lato said. "Last year, I wrote 100,000 (words). This year, I'm going for more."

For both Yao and Lato, NaNoWriMo is a family affair. Yao's 13-year-old daughter, Kristiana, has completed novels three of the past four years and has been trying to recruit more of her friends to participate this November. Lato's husband, son and daughter have successfully finished novels.

"It's amazing how much fun it can be," Lato said.

National Novel Writing Month started in 1999 with 21 participants and has grown steadily since them. Last year, 119,000 writers worldwide participated, with 21,000 completing their works, according to the Web site.

Since Naperville became an official region in 2005, 130 to 160 aspiring writers from the area have participated each year, Yao said. Last year, 37 percent won - that is validated their novels on the organization's Web site before midnight Nov. 30 - compared to 18 percent worldwide.

Yao said he likes to think the Naperville region's high completion rate is due to its preparatory and writing events. The group held two sessions in October before the kickoff party.

Participants also may choose to join weekly write-ins from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Warrenville city hall, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays at Plano Library, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays at the 95th Street Library in Naperville.

The write-ins include word wars - competitions of who can write the most words within a specified period of time - and other challenges. The Naperville group has a regional song, and in the past has scored word-war victories over Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and the entire nation of France.

"The social aspect sets it apart from a writing contest," Yao said. "There's a real, palatable electricity in the air."

Yao's daughter, Kristiana, is especially fond of the word wars.

"It's a great motivator, and it also helps you get a lot of experience writing," said Kristiana, who loves literature and hopes to publish one day.

Barbara Hower of Naperville said she didn't attend any of the write-ins last year, but may participate in a couple this year. She did join a group of NaNoWriMo-ers who meet year-round and plan to self-publish a short story anthology.

"It helps to know there are tons of other people typing away, trying to make their 50K goals," she wrote in an e-mail.

Dave Dean, a third co-municipal liaison of the Naperville region, said he first participated four years ago after he was challenged to do so by his daughter.

"She knew I'd wanted to write because I had talked about it as long as she was alive," he said in an e-mail.

Dean, who works in the insurance industry and has published nonfiction articles, said he finds it liberating to have a month to focus on the creative side of writing. He's completed a science fiction novel the last three years.

"I have taken eight personal days in November so I can work on my writing," he said.