Barry McNamara  |  Published December 14, 2022

A Novel Approach

Trio of students wrote 50,000 words each in November during National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo: Pictured on the first day of National Novel Writing Month are, from left, Hazel Gablin... NaNoWriMo: Pictured on the first day of National Novel Writing Month are, from left, Hazel Gablin, Dawsyn Wilson, Kestrel Woeltje, Jennie Nichols and Jan Abel. Woeltje, Nichols and Abel all completed the 50,000-word challenge.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Three Monmouth College students put the “Yes” in NaNoWriMo.

During the month of November, the trio all produced 50,000 words of fiction, spurred on by NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, an annual online event held each November.

Seniors Jan Abel of Wataga, Illinois, Jennie Nichols of Galesburg, Illinois, and Kestral Woeltje of Sheridan, Illinois, reached the goal. Another student, freshman Dawsyn Wilson of Portland, Oregon – who also writes for the College’s communications and marketing team – got halfway there.

A descriptor on the organization’s website reads: “Writing a novel alone can be difficult, even for seasoned writers. NaNoWriMo helps you track your progress, set milestones, connect with other writers in a vast community, and participate in events that are designed to make sure you finish your novel.”

The Monmouth authors even felt that sense of community on campus, gathering regularly throughout November.

“We met twice a week for an hour, sometimes typing together and sometimes just talking, and even, if the situation dictated, commiserating,” said Nichols, while seated with the other writers in a ring of comfortable chairs in Hewes Library. “(Director) Sarah Henderson here at the library really supported us, too.”

Mapping out a schedule

NaNoWriMo says it “provides tools, structure, community and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds — on and off the page.”

“We designed the books’ covers in October, which they say is motivation to help you finish your novel,” said Abel.

“Part of it is just getting the story out – just getting the words out. There are parts that I thought turned out really wonderful, and other parts where I did better in sixth grade.” Jennie Nichols

“Part of it is just getting the story out – just getting the words out,” said Nichols. “There are parts that I thought turned out really wonderful, and other parts where I did better in sixth grade.”

The students needed to average writing 1,667 words per day for each of November’s 30 days. Woeltje’s chart was nearly a perfectly straight diagonal, steadily rising from 0 in the bottom left-hand corner of the graph to 50,000 in the upper right-hand corner on the month’s final day.

Abel and Nichols, who will both take an independent study course on novel revision next semester with English professor David Wright, reached the goal in more dramatic fashion. Abel, in fact, zipped through the 50,000 words by Nov. 17, then let her work sit for a week before going back to make edits on Black Friday. Nichols had a few zeroes along the way, but made up for the deficit with a 6,000-word day and eventually reached the goal a day early.

Creating new worlds

This was the sixth time that Nichols had participated in NaNoWriMo. She, Abel and Woeltje had the added experience of the College’s “Advanced Creative Writing” course, which they took last spring with Wright.

“That course is when it really started,” said Abel of her novel. The students’ work was showcased during April’s Scholars Day poster display in the Huff Athletic Center.

“The class is called ‘Building Stories, Building Worlds,’” said Wright at the poster display. Wright noted that in recent years, students, perhaps influenced by the Harry Potter series, have enjoyed “living in a world that’s not the one they’re in.”

Creating a fantasy world was at the heart of all four students authors’ works. Titled Melded, Nichols’ work “is set in another world with a tree with the ability to mold individuals into one. It also has a romantic element,” she said.

“I started writing when I was a young child. I’ve been wanting to write something like this for as long as I can remember.” Kestrel Woeltje

Woeltje has been working on her story about monster hunters, titled Leviathans, for two years, and has been wanting to write a novel for even longer.

“I started writing when I was a young child,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to write something like this for as long as I can remember.”

“When I was 4, I read Charlotte’s Web, and the idea to be a writer has never stopped,” said Nichols.

“I started about the same age,” said Abel. “I’m pretty stubborn. I said, ‘I’ll have a book done by graduation.’”

Abel is working on The Return of the Xosha, which revolves around “the Chosen One, who saved the day, but now it’s eight or nine years later, and they’re drunk and just wandering around. But they get pulled back into action to train the new Chosen One.”

She was inspired by the lyrics to the Penelope Scott song, “Sweet Hibiscus Tea”: “And I’m not your protagonist, I’m not even my own.”

“That was the whole catalyst for my character,” she said.

Titled Death’s Got a Headache, Wilson’s work tells the story of a group of teenagers who are children of the gods.

Listen Up …

David Wright discusses NaNoWriMo on WBBM-FM in Chicago.

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