Local novelists write 52,000 words in one month


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Drew Dillion churned out more than 52,000 words throughout November.

The 26-year-old Iowa City resident typed half into his computer, and scrawled the rest by hand in a small spiral notebook.

Dillion has been working on a story about how a high school is affected by the death of one of its students, focusing on the effect it has on the people in the school.

"I've had this boiling in my brain for the past two and a half years, and now that I've actually started, I can see the complexity in this," he said. "I can see how much work I have done and how much more I have yet to do. It just snowballs."

His literary feat came from his participation in the National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo — in which aspiring writers across the nation commit to the 50,000 words, or roughly 175 pages, per person challenge.

Dillion said a month of focusing only on writing helped him, but it took a toll on other daily responsibilities.

"Writing 5,000 words a day really takes it out of you," Dillion said. "There's piles of dishes everywhere and piles of dust everywhere, too. Luckily, my wife is in grad school, so she hasn't noticed that I'm usually gone."

According to the group's website, 165 people registered for Iowa City, writing more than 4 million words in total.

Marie Raven, the National Novel Writers Month municipal liaison for the Iowa City area, coordinated around 10 or 12 meetings since the beginning of October. Some writes exceeded the 50,000-word goal, while others fell short, she said.

Raven has participated in the event for six years and has written a novel that she is revising while working on another one.

"The general camaraderie really helps, I think," she said. "You can ask questions or run ideas by people, ask: 'Is this realistic?' or 'What would you do with this?' "

UI freshman Becky Willerth participated in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time, finishing with 50,000 words.

"It makes you write every day, so you have to write something, even if it's bad," she said. "But with 50,000 words, you're bound to get something good."

At the end-of-the-month celebration at Capanna Coffee Tuesday night, Dillion shared Willerth's sentiment.

"I don't know if it necessarily makes writers," he said, twirling his pen and scribbling down a few words.

Though Dillion said he's not sure if he'll try to get his story published, he considers the month a success. His computer and white notebook — decorated with a drawing of someone writing in an open book — hold over 52,000 words between them. Last year, he participated but didn't reach the word count goal. This year he finished early.

Ultimately, participating in the marathon month of writing is a way to avoid procrastinating until it's too late, he said.

"I think it works as a springboard," Dillion said. "For a lot of people, life sneaks up on you. But it gets your fingers tapping or your pen moving."

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