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Q&A: What does it take to win NaNoWriMo?

Vanessa Blackburn leads a "Come Write In" event at Bellingham Public Library, Monday, Nov. 9.
Vanessa Blackburn leads a “Come Write In” event at Bellingham Public Library, Monday, Nov. 9.

In one month, Western alumna Vanessa Blackburn turned a blank page into a novel.

Blackburn, now the current Communications Officer for the city of Bellingham and title holder for the NaNoWriMo competition,  oversaw a “Come Write In” event at the Bellingham Public Library, which promoted the National Novel Writing Month–a challenge where writers challenge themselves to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Q: Are you participating in the contest this year?

A: That’s correct. This is my third year and my first year I failed and last year I won. The reason I failed the first year was because I didn’t work everyday and, for this particular contest, the goal is to get you into the habit of writing everyday because if you don’t then you fall behind. It forces you to move through your writer’s block, and it forces you to be creative when you’re stuck and I really like that opportunity.   

Q:   Would you say that’s your key to success here?

A: Yes, because the folks who I know who have tried it and have not been able to complete it, it’s because they have not been writing everyday. And it’s hard to do. It’s a bigger challenge. People think, “Oh I can write 1600 words a day. No problem.”

Q: What are your books about?

A: I’m definitely a planner, so when I started working on this particular project, which was embarrassingly long ago, I started planning out an adventure that kind of naturally fell into three sections. The first book is introducing the world which takes place about 100 years in the future, and the way it is different than now. The second book I’m finding, as I work my way through this project, is that I’m actually having more fun as I already have characters that are developed with personalities. I kind of know what they need to do and where they need to go and it just falls in place a lot better. Part of that also comes from just doing a lot of writing and once you get to the point where you’ve written 100,000 words, 200,000 thousand words, you start getting into the rhythms of it. I think it comes easier.

Q: Why is writing fiction more personal for you?

A: I’ve always written about other people and what they think and what their lives are like, it’s a little uncomfortable for me to talk about my world view. So this series of books is a lot about where we’re headed as a species, and I read a lot of science,a nd i read a lot of climate science and it’s not looking good. To me it has to do with getting back to the core of what it means to be alive in the present, in the world. So it’s kind of about that but it’s also about dystopian and utopian societies, and it’s about race, and it’s about gender identity, and it’s about genetics and it’s probably way too big of a story for me to be writing but it’s really fun to explore. I do hope that someday this book does get published but I’m writing it for me and I’m writing it for my kids and that is very motivational for me because if I were just writing it so that someday I would be a famous author, i think it would be too intimidating to continue so I’m really doing this because I want to.        

Q: Do you think without a good education you can’t be a good writer?
A: No I don’t. I think the public education system works really well for most people. I think there are some people it doesn’t work so well for and they can be just as intelligent and just as educated and not have a high-degree. I think in order to be a good writer you need to understand the language, and understand the grammar and word usage but there are some brilliant writers who never had a formal education.

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