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A Seattle woman writes a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, while library patrons look on

Gabriela writing in her makeshift living room, at the Seattle Public Library's downtown branch. (Photo by Nick Spang)
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Seattle’s Gabriela Frank is writing her very first novel, spurred on by the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo.

“It happens every November and it’s a challenge for writers to write a minimum of 50,000 words in 30 days. Which would be the basis of a novel, or at least a really good start.”

But instead of writing from her kitchen table, or a coffee shop buzzing with laptops, Gabriela has set up a miniature version of her living room in the main, downtown branch of the Seattle Public Library.

“This is all really from my house,” she says gesturing to her furniture. “So we’re sitting on my couch, and a little table that I refinished over here. We’ve got a lamp, we’ve got a Persian rug. Plants all around here. The people who have seen my living room have been able to come in and say, yeah, this is what your house looks like.”

And library patrons can actually watch her write her 50,000 words.

“The screen behind me is actually projecting what I am writing in real time. So people can come up and watch me as I work, with my fingers trembling occasionally.”

It definitely adds a layer of self consciousness to the usually solitary, judgement-free writing process.

“As I came here, there was actually a small crowd waiting. So I thought to myself, ‘Brilliant, brilliant, write something brilliant,’ because they’re waiting for you to write something brilliant. That was challenging. It’s gotten a little easier over time. Except when I’m writing, say, a romantic scene and there are people standing there watching over my shoulder.”

Gabriela’s full-time job is at an architecture firm, but she’s had some essays and short fiction published. And as an emerging writer, she found the art of writing pretty isolating.

“So I saw this quote that is attributed to someone named John Green. The quote is, ‘Writing is something you do alone. It’s a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story, but who don’t want to make eye contact while doing it.’ My first reaction to this was, no! This is not what we should be doing as a community of artists. I don’t feel like perpetuating this mystique. This sort of closeted practice of art isn’t really helpful to anyone. Especially for up-and-coming artists who are looking to make connections with other people.”

So she pitched her idea to 4Culture, who gave her a grant and a place in the library to call home. And with less than a week until the end of the month, she’s nearly reached the 50,000 word goal.

“I think, as of today, it’s been about 70 hours or so of time, just for the writing portion of this.”

Across the country, 310,095 people attempted to write a novel through NaNoWriMo last November, and this year the number is expected to be closer to 400,000. Every single day in Seattle, you can find organized, NaNoWriMo write-ins. Writers gather at cafes or the library, and silently write together, help each other through the process or get feedback on their plots and characters. Best selling novels like Water for Elephants and Wool started as NaNoWriMo novels.

“So far in Seattle, NaNoWriMo participants have written 30,425,081 words.”

If you want to watch Gabriela write, or ask her questions, she’ll be at the library Wednesday and Friday from 5-8pm.

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