Founder of National Novel Writing Month to speak Saturday in Macon

acastillo@macon.comOctober 4, 2012 

National Novel Writing Month founder Chris Baty will deliver Saturday’s keynote address at the fourth annual Crossroads Writers Conference.

The conference, which begins Friday and ends Sunday in Macon, also will feature workshops, a book fair and appearances from authors including Adam Mansbach, Chuck Wendig and Bernice McFadden.

When Baty started National Novel Writing Month in 1999, there were only 21 participants. In 2011, however, about 300,000 would-be novelists took part. During National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, participants in the November event are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel. Some of those NaNoWriMo works have become bestsellers, including Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants.”

Thursday, The Telegraph spoke to Baty about Crossroads, NaNoWriMo and the writing process. The interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Telegraph: What are you looking forward to at this year’s Crossroads Conference?

Baty: Crossroads is definitely focused on the active writing, where I think a lot of the writers’ conferences and festivals are more about getting published. To me, Crossroads embraces the joy of creativity and the emotional ups and downs of actually getting things written ... I just always come away from that kind of experience really full of new ideas. It’s a chance also to meet great kindred spirits.

Telegraph: Why do you think it’s important to have everyone together and be able to talk about that writing experience?

Baty: I think that there’s this kind of myth of the solitary writer -- this person who has this brilliant idea and then sort of disappears in a garret for 10 years and sort of reads quietly by candlelight and emerges with this amazingly accomplished book. I think that the truth is we all need this sort of community and encouragement to get any writing project done. I mean, we benefit immensely from having cheerleaders but also having people that can give us feedback on what we’ve written along the way.

Telegraph: Can you tell me a little about how NaNoWriMo got started?

Baty: I started it back in 1999 in really this sort of over-caffeinated dare where I invited all of my friends to join me in writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. We all loved books and we revered authors, but none of us saw ourselves as novelists. I think we just kind of did it as a way to drink too much coffee and spend time together. The books that we ended up writing -- I think there were only 21 of us that year -- I think really surprised us. They weren’t great books, but they weren’t horrible books. To me, that was sort of a revelation. The next year I put up a website and sent out an e-mail to more people, and that kind of snowballed to the point where last year there were north of 300,000 participants writing novels in November.

Telegraph: Do you have any advice for writers, particularly those who might’ve been thinking about writing a novel for years and have been hesitant or people just battling writer’s block?

Baty: I think that a deadline works miracles. I think people understand how important deadlines are in other parts of our lives, but I feel like when it comes to creative projects, its hard ... (NaNoWriMo) is really in some ways just really a deadline and a hug. It’s a deadline with some encouragement and community around it. I really do think that people that have had trouble, that start a lot of projects and end them ... the problem is not a lack of ideas or creativity, it’s really a lack of a deadline.

Telegraph: What do you think that says, that bestsellers like “Water for Elephants” have come out of NaNoWriMo?

Baty: To me, one of the great things over the years is that (NaNoWriMo) has kind of become a destination for writers at all levels. There are professional writers who have published a bunch of novels who take part, there are people who are book lovers who have never written a novel before who do it. ... Those people who are doing it for the first time can draw from the experienced people who have walked this path many, many times before.

Telegraph: I understand this is going to be your first Georgia appearance. What are you looking forward to doing here?

Baty: Boiled peanuts, definitely. I really am looking forward to boiled peanuts. My mom grew up in Mississippi and lives in Mississippi. I feel like every time I go to the South, I’m always hungry to try to get to the Southeast and I rarely make it over there. I’m going to be just traveling in Macon. Afterwards I’m renting a car, and I’m just going to drive around the area. One of the other things I love to do is to take pictures, so I feel like I will be pulling the car over quite frequently to take photos.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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