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Mental Marathon

Local writers race to write 50,000 words in a month.

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If you've ever wanted to turn off your spell-checker for a while, November is the month to do it.

Participants in National Novel Writing Month, now in its 12th year, are encouraged to put grammar and spelling on the back burner and focus on length. That's pretty good advice, considering that by the end of November, many of them will have written more than 50,000 words.

NaNoWriMo, as it's called, is a massive literary project — more than 160,000 people around the world took part last year. The Memphis chapter has more than 500 members. That number includes past and present participants, and though not all of them finish the challenge, the experience has kept many of them coming back.

Bartlett resident Laura Smith, this year's liaison for the Memphis area NaNoWriMo, is working on her third novel. The first time, she started writing halfway through November and didn't quite make it to 50,000 words. But last year, advance planning and getting involved with other local participants helped her reach the end goal.

"We have a lot of support for each other," she says, "and I think that's what makes the process easier than just writing a novel on your own."

Many of the local NaNoWriMo authors spent Halloween at the kick-off party Smith hosted, discussing ideas for their novels and starting the long trek together when the clock struck midnight. The group is hosting "write-ins" throughout the month, where participants come together at area libraries and restaurants to work side-by-side.

"If you get stuck or have a question, you can just shout it out," Smith says, "and someone can suggest a nice way to transition. You could spend hours thinking about that question if you were on your own."

The group also has a "dare jar" full of interesting characters and situations; if writers are looking for inspiration, they can pull out a slip of paper and find something new to incorporate into their novels.

Writing so quickly may seem a little reckless, but Smith points out that the results are often surprising.

"A lot of us are aspiring novelists, and it's a great exercise for us," she says. "We know that writing this fast may make our ideas less complete, but we just want to get them down on paper. There's a real sense of accomplishment at the end."

Writers who reach the 50,000-word goal can submit their novels to the NaNoWriMo website and receive a certificate of completion in exchange.

And then? The long editing process begins.

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