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Oct. 31, 2008, 11:55 a.m.

Unleash your inner novelist: 30 days to 50,000 words

For a lot of reporters and editors, newspaper layoffs take away more than a steady paycheck — they steal an identity. Newspaper people, more than in a lot of other businesses, define themselves by the work they do.

And when they’re set adrift from the mothership, it can be jarring. (My own alma mater, The Dallas Morning News, just went through another round of layoffs a week ago, sending a few more of my friends down this road.)

So here’s my advice to the recently laid off (or those worried about the possibility): Observe National Novel Writing Month.

Nanowrimo (as it’s known) is a project where, each November, tens of thousands of people around the world write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Its guiding principle will seem familiar to journalists: A looming deadline can inspire productivity far beyond expectations. (For those of you doing the math in your heads, that’s about 40 inches of prose a day. Plus you get to make it all up.) There’s a supportive community around it, both online and tied to specific places. (If, some evening in the next few weeks, you see a cluster of caffeinated people typing madly into their laptops at your local Barnes & Noble, they’re probably Nanowrimo people having a “write-in.”)

In a sense, Nanowrimo has the same appeal as the free writing your newspaper’s writing coach used to recommend (back when your newspaper could afford a writing coach). By releasing yourself from the normal bounds of quality — by killing off your inner editor — you can release yourself from your old habits and really write. Consider it a cleansing ritual for your writing voice. And while it’s a cliche that every newspaper writer is secretly a frustrated novelist, well — cliches are cliches because they’re true a lot of the time.

I interviewed Chris Baty, the founder of Nanowrimo and a freelance journalist himself, about the special appeal the project holds for working reporters. Here’s a nine-minute MP3 of our conversation, or just hit play below.

[audio:http://www.niemanlab.org/audio/chrisbaty.mp3]

POSTED     Oct. 31, 2008, 11:55 a.m.
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