Its a Saturday in November, the sun is barely poking its way out of the outcast sky and a light mist covers the ground, and today is the day, the day to write your novel. As you begin to write the first sentence of your novel, you focus yourself to write those 50,000 words that are soon due because November 30 is approaching quickly and that means National Novel Writing Month is almost over.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was created in 1999 to encourage people to sit down and write a novel. According to the organization, “NaNoWriMo is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.”
The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, creating a novel of any genre. then uploading that novel to nanowrimo.org. It the end of the month the website will verify the word count. If it is at least 50,000, the organization automatically classifies the you as a winner.
In spite of this accolade, NaNoWriMo does not offer any tangible reward. Rather, according to their website, “The only real prize of NaNoWriMo is the self-satisfaction that comes with pulling off such a great, creative feat.”
Writing a 50,000 word novel can seem like a daunting challenge. However, after doing the math, the task may appear less daunting; the challenge can be broken up in to 1,700 words per day or six double-spaced manuscript pages of the 175 manuscript page total.
The organization believes that the one month deadline is an integral part of the writing experience their group offers. NaNoWriMo’s mission asserts, “[The challenge is] all about using the magical power of deadlines to tell your story.”
Visiting Associate Professor of English Dean Crawford ultimately recommends that people follow the organization’s challenge and simply write. However, Crawford said, “Steady writing is better than binge writing. 50,000 words can be divided by 30 into a reasonable number per day, but that assumes the writer writes every day and doesn’t wait until the last week of the month and has a good subject all ready to go.”
Anveshi Guha ’15, who has participated in the past without finishing her novel, and who is participating this year as well, can also attest to having a regular writing schedule. She said in an emailed statement, “I’m participating because I recently came up with this concept for a novel that I really like and would be pretty proud to write, but I knew I wouldn’t remember to actually work on it without some sort of intense motivation.”
Guha went on to note, “The goal of 50,000 words in a month seems pretty unobtainable, which can be really stressful, but aiming that high is exactly the kind of push I needed to be able to write more than the premise without getting distracted.”
Some people may question if writing so much is worth the time or effort it would take writing a novel in a month, but NaNoWriMo addresses this concern, saying that there are three reasons why writers should bother writing those 50,000 words.
The organization asserts, “If you don’t do it now, you probably never will, the structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START.”
NaNoWriMo’s mission statement freely admits that the challenge will have no real physical reward. However, the group maintains, “Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you.”
Jean-Luc Bouchard ’14 has attempted to complete National Novel Writing Month on two separate instances, but has failed both times. However, that has not stopped him from writing and he said that he thinks NaNoWriMo is still a fantastic initiative.
Bouchard is now writing a novel for his senior thesis. He said, “I chose to write a novel partly as to challenge myself as a writer, and writing is an extremely therapeutic activity for a writer and an excellent way to organize thoughts and emotions.”
Bouchard is not the only person to not be able to complete NaNoWriMo—roughly 10 percent of the people participating actually manage to “win.” According to the organization, 341,375 participated last year, but only 38,438 of those participants won.
The organization also has an eye to the potential future successes of the works they receive each year. Once a novel is completed, NaNoWriMo never saves the novels, and the writers still retain all rights to everything they wrote. Sometimes those writers who participated in NaNoWriMo have had their novels published. Published authors include Sara Gruen who wrote Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern who wrote The Night Circus, and Hugh Howey who wrote Wool.
Whether or not students win or even participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge, Crawford said he hopes writing will get others to share his belief that writing is more than just pleasing readings. He said, “The best writing doesn’t null roll off reader’s backs, or offer a pleasant of informative experience, but in some way shakes readers, rocks their world at least briefly, either with its relevance of beauty or disturbing combination of elements.”
Aspiring NaNoWriMo winner Guha had similar sentiments about the nature of writing. “I feel that writing can be a really effective tool for communication, not just with others, but also with oneself. I think writing — at any age, for any reason, in any genre or style — can really help solidify ideas and feelings. Seeing an idea explicitly written out in type makes it somehow more real than just thinking it in my head, which I find helps with introspection and with further fleshing out the idea,” she wrote.