Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

November 1, 2012

Novelists write on

TAHLEQUAH — Novelists spend endless hours painstakingly choosing words, setting up scenes, building conflict, seeking resolution, and revising and editing.

November is National Novel Writing Month, and two local novelists, Layce Gardner and Saxon Bennett, agree that to be a “real” writer, you have to write every day.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block; I think [that excuse] is just writers being lazy,” said Gardner. “I mean, you might throw away everything you did that day, but you wrote. Writer’s block is code for ‘it’s too hard.’”

Gardner and Bennett both pen women’s romantic comedies. Gardner has had two novels published, “Tats,” and “Tats Too,” and will have a third published in May 2013. Bennett has published 14 novels, including “Family Affair,” which won the Goldie Award for General Fiction in 2009.

The pair share a home and work space, and often, ideas.

“We barter for ideas, and bounce ideas around together,” said Bennett.

Gardner agreed.

“Exactly. For instance, I got the ambulance chaser [for one of my stories], and Saxon got the woman who never paid admission at the museum,” she said.

The pair are often asked why they chose writing as a profession.

“I write because I don’t know how to stop,” said Gardner. “It’s not unusual for me to have 15 pieces on my [computer] desktop that I’m working on simultaneously.”

The novelists’ workspace includes a desk with a laptop where Gardner writes, and an overstuffed chair, where Bennett sits and works from a laptop.

“I used to write everything [in longhand] in composition books,” said Bennett. “The past two novels, I moved to working on a laptop. After transferring everything in the notebooks to the computer, I decided to cut out that one step.”

Both employ distractions to hone ideas for stories.

“I used to think I couldn’t write without smoking [cigarettes],” said Gardner, who has been tobacco-free for over two years. “I’d use the cigarette to stop writing, think and then rush back to my computer when an idea would hit me. Now, I clean and do other things.”

Bennett juggles and uses a yo-yo when she needs a break from writing.

For those aspiring to become novelists, Gardner and Bennett recommend reading and avoiding television.

“You really should read a lot,” said Bennett. “It also helps if you wait until you’re over 40, so you have some life experience to pull from. I read a lot, but while I’m reading, I’m also picking things apart, it develops muscle memory for writers.”

Writers agree it’s important to practice the craft every day, but what if quantity – not quality – was the ultimate goal?

The National Novel Writing Month – known as NaNoWriMo – organization challenges would-be novelists to spend the month of November concentrating on output, rather than cohesiveness of plot or finished product.

According to the organization’s website, participants begin writing at 12:01 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 1, and the goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately  175 pages) novel by 11:59:59 p.m., Friday, Nov. 30.

“Because of the limited writing window, the only thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output,” states the site. “It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks and write on the fly.”

Event organizers believe that by making the commitment to write every day – regardless of quality - fledgling authors will permit themselves to make mistakes, and thereby grow more comfortable with the craft.

In 2011, NaNoWriMo had 256,618 participants, with 36,843 crossing the 50K finish line by the deadline.

Former Daily Press Staff Writer Betty Ridge, now retired and living elsewhere, is working on a memoir of her experiences from 35 years as a journalist in northeastern Oklahoma.

Ridge said journalism provided her a vast array of subject matter.

“One day, I was covering the first execution in Oklahoma in nearly a quarter century,” said Ridge. “Two days later, I covered a cow chip-throwing contest at the Muskogee State Fair.”

Although Ridge’s missive is non-fiction, she said the techniques used for publication are similar.

“While my work is based on memory and research, I have to use many of the same techniques as a novelist to make my story interesting,” said Ridge.

“There is plenty of dialogue, although mine comes from newspaper quotes. We have to set the scenes and tell our stories well.”

Ridge belongs to a seven-member writing group that attended a seminar in September in Midwest City. Four members are novelists, and the balance are non-fiction writers.

 

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