Writers push daily word counts in hopes of publishing novels
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Writers push daily word counts in hopes of publishing novels

A thousand words a day for 30 days – that’s how several USD students hope to finish writing their novels by the end of this month.

As part of National Novel Writing Month, Ph.D. student and author Teri Kramer is working with students on their novels.

Kramer has written three novels this year and is working on her fourth and fifth novels.

“It’s not necessarily something I push or recommend for everyone, but my own self-publishing schedule is set to a novel per month,” Kramer said. “It’s very doable.”

Kramer said she tries to write between 500 and 1,000 words a day.

Having completed her own novels, Kramer said students can gain a lot from participating in National Novel Writing Month.

“As far as advantages, any time you devote that much time to practicing a skill, it’s going to improve,” Kramer said.

A story of agricultural roots

Graduate student Cheyenne Marco works on her novel about the Midwest and her agricultural roots. Submitted Photo Illustration | The Volante

Graduate student Cheyenne Marco is taking dissertation credits in creative writing and agrarian literature. She said her goal is to write an 80,000-word novel.

“My project examines the complex relationship between Midwesterners and water quality,” Marco said. “The story begins with my childhood on a Minnesota farm, explores my love of lakes and rivers and ends with my decision to work for an environmental group that focuses on water quality issues. It revolves around my struggle to support my agricultural roots while protecting my favorite natural resource.”

This project has been 20 years in the making, Marco said. She’s about halfway done with the book and trying to write at least 1,500 words a day.

“When I sit down to write, every word I type feels like running up the side of a hill: intense, exhausting and impossible,” Marco said. “I want to be done already, but it’s not that easy.”

Marco said time and focus have been two challenges she’s encountered through writing the novel.

“There have been days when I only want to focus on writing, but I have so many other responsibilities,” Marco said. “I am constantly trying to find time to write. I have to remind myself to stay on task and save my tangents for another project.”

A historical tale

Russell Shaffer, a graduate student, works on his novel “Treehouse Soldiers.” Submitted Photo | The Volante

Graduate student Russell Shaffer is taking a creative writing workshop and working on his novel “Treehouse Soldiers” for National Novel Writing Month.

He’s planning for 300 pages and has 200 pages written already, writing 250 words per day.

“The story revolves around a boy and his family and friends, and they represent what most Americans experienced at home during the war,” Shaffer said. “The idea came to me from watching a World War II documentary by Ken Burns, in which he focuses on the American civilian’s perspective. It was the first time I’d seen a war film about civilians, and I was completely captivated.”

Because Shaffer is writing historical fiction, he’s adding images of old newspaper clippings, photographs and telegrams to help tell his story.

Shaffer said novel writing is complex, but still an enjoyable process.

“Writing believable characters is always a challenge for me,” Shaffer said. “Authors have to be able to make those events matter on a personal level so we can grow and improve from them, and figuring out what those moral implications are can be really difficult.”

In addition to writing historical fiction, Shaffer also has written children’s books.

Shaffer said the novel writing process has been valuable.

“I’ve learned that, if you want your characters to act and think like real people, sometimes you just have to sit there and think,” Shaffer said. “You don’t write a single word. You just sit there and try to get into the heads of your characters. I spent years just thinking about my characters, getting to know them before I ever wrote a single word about them.”