Throughout the month of February, students, faculty and alumni have the chance to put their writing skills to the test. The third annual AU Storytelling Month kicked off this past Saturday where writers began the challenge of writing 500 words a day for the whole month.
Associate Professor of cinema and media arts Jack Lugar said the idea of AU StoMo was inspired by the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) that happens every November.
“It’s an international non-profit organization that encourages people to write 50,000 words in a month,” Lugar said. “I was playing around with that, and realizing that people didn’t have time to write that much, I decided to trim it down.”
The motivating factor for starting the challenge on campus was for Lugar to practice what he preaches when he tells his students to “get rid of the excuses and just write.”
He said that it’s an independent challenge, but there are some chances to write together, as well.
“No one’s reading what you’re writing or checking up on you, but we do a couple things to encourage and keep people accountable,” he said. “I keep a tracker in Google Sheets where everybody participating can write in their word count each day to see other’s progress.”
Last year, the group participating wrote over 227,000 words collectively and 6 out of the 18 participants completed the 14,000 word goal.
“It’s fun to see everyone’s progress, and I find that if people know I’m writing, they’ll ask me about it, so it keeps me accountable,” Lugar said. “I want to be able to say ‘It’s going great. I’m doing it.’”
Along with the tracker, he said that the group does a launch event, an ending party and write-ins during the process. The group meets in Mocha Joe’s to write together, so they’re able to talk about their progress and what they’re writing.
Lugar said that he will have published three books that he’s worked on during the storytelling month, one of them being the third book in his “Katz Pajamas” children’s book series. He highly encourages people to join in because he believes everyone is a writer.
“I firmly believe that whether you’re a good writer, you see yourself as a writer or you just like a challenge, it will be a healthy process for you,” Lugar said. “Some people use it as a daily blog, and some of us use those words to write fiction novels. Anyone who takes this and challenges themselves is going to become a better writer every day, and they will find ways to use that tool in their future careers.”
A participant of AU StoMo who surprised himself by publishing a children’s fantasy book is associate professor of English Dr. Jason Parks. This will be his third year participating in the storytelling month.
“I did it two years ago with nothing specific mind, and I hadn’t done anything like it before,” Parks said. “Once I did that, I wanted to do it again the next year but with more of a goal.”
He has four kids at home, so he said he spends a lot of time reading to his nine-year-old. He was already reading a lot of children’s fantasy books, so that’s where the idea came from.
“I didn’t have an outline exactly, but I had been taking notes on the goals and the world I wanted to create for the book,” Parks said. “Every night after I read to my kids and they fell asleep, I would write my 500 words.
“Each night I would follow a character and create different parts of the world as the characters explored the world. With fantasy, I didn’t have to do much research, because it was imaginary, so it was like a discovery every night.”
He committed to no evaluating or questioning during the process. Because he teaches English classes, he said that it was hard for him to do that, but he wanted it to be a free experience.
“Once I got to the end of the month, I realized that I doubled the 14,000 word goal and I had over 30,000 words,” he said. “I felt like it was a finished book, so following professor Lugar’s advice, I decided to have it published.”
He said that he found an illustrator to design the cover for him, and he had former English students from AU read the book for him. He released, The Wondercurrent in November, and he plans to continue the series titled, “Rela PenSword and the Red Notebooks” during this month’s challenge.
Senior cinema and media arts major Rebekkah Napier will be participating in the storytelling month for the second year in a row, but she said that her work this year will be different than last year.
“Last year went extremely well,” Napier said. “Admittedly, there were days that I didn’t want to write, but once I got going, I didn’t want to stop. Last year, I was writing a fanfiction novella, but this year I’m writing a feature-length film screenplay. I’m trying to get as much writing experience as possible, so I can get more scripts of mine into the film business.”
She said that she would encourage others to participate because of the satisfaction and joy you feel at the end of the month.
“When you finish the book and look back on all of your hard work, you realize that you did much more writing than you ever thought you could,” Napier said. “There’s nothing more satisfying than holding up your finished draft and saying, ‘I made this.’”