By Leah Jones, Features Editor
As November knells the end of the warm weather at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and brings colorful leaves, chilly evenings, and warm beverages with it, it also brings with it National Novel Writing Month. Known by most as NaNoWriMO, National Novel Writing Month begins on November 1 of every year and motivates aspiring writers to write every day until November 30 in order to complete a 50,000 word novel. This year’s theme is “Your Novel, Your Universe.”
According to their official website, NaNoWriMo values storytelling and creativity. The project began in 1999 in order to encourage writers to get their novels out on paper or into a digital file. In 2005, NaNoWriMo became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In 2015, 431,626 writers participated in the event. This year, the NaNoWriMo press release states that they expect an even higher turn-out of about 500,000 people. Though the writing project began nationally, today it is observed by participants all around the globe.
Sarah Hayes, senior, English, and A&E Editor of The Current, completed the NaNoWriMo challenge three times. The first year that she completed NaNoWriMo was in 2009. “As a writer, I thought the idea of writing an entire novel (or at least most of one) in one month was super cool and worth exploring. I had already had a story idea and some character sketches that I thought were good enough to expand into 50k words, so when November hit, I was ready,” Hayes said.
The 50,000 word goal seems high, but if writers write about 1,667 words per day, they will complete all 50,000 words. Of the 431,262 writers who wrote last year, the press release stated that more than 40,000 participants reached this goal.
Hayes said that she wrote about 2,000 words per day to reach 50k words. She said, “When it came to the day to day slog of writing to reach 50k, I just had to set aside time every day for writing and only writing. That usually meant sitting at the computer for hours at a time, typing and drinking coffee and keeping my favorite music playing on loop so I wouldn’t be distracted by ‘new’ sounds. I believe that the unofficial 2009 soundtrack was The Pillows and Fantastic Plastic Machine, 2010 was Lady Gaga and Lonely Island, and 2011 was more of a mixed bag.”
Hayes also said that there are a number of programs which NaNoWriMo offers to help keep writers motivated throughout the month. “The most useful service from the NaNoWriMo website was probably the forums,” Hayes said. “I often found inspiration from what other people were already mulling over. Also, it introduced me to the TSOD – the Traveling Shovel Of Death – the plot device that many a NaNoWriMo writer has relied upon to keep the plot moving. The TSOD gets pulled out whenever the plot stalls, and usually means killing a character off, or just blowing something up or having something cataclysmic occur—anything that shakes up the status quo in the manuscript.
NaNoWriMo also offers pep talks to writers in order to spur them on throughout the month. Previous years have included talks by authors such as Gene Luen Yang, John Green, N. K. Jemisin, and Veronica Roth. This year, the line-up includes, Alexander Chee, author of “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of the Night,” Daniel José Older, author of “Half-Resurrection Blues” series, Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of “The Summer Prince” and “Love is the Drug,” Maggie Stiefvater, author of “The Raven Cycle,” series, and Jenny Han, author of “All The Boys I’ve Loved” and “P.S. I Still Love You.”
Hayes agreed that motivation was key to completing NaNoWriMo. She said that connecting with people and turning the process into a game helped her to maintain focus. “It’s staying motivated that seems to kill a lot of NaNoWriMo dreams. That’s why I didn’t do it alone; I connected with people online via Livejournal and the NaNoWriMo forums, and we would go onto chat rooms and write together. We would ‘sprint,’ which is when one writes nonstop for a limited amount of time and then sees how much words they actually put down. It becomes a competition and also a great motivator, so often people will create chat rooms just for sprinting,” she said.
While Hayes connected with people online, there are also offline spaces where writers can connect and write. Libraries and bookstores can join in the Come Write In Program in order to build welcoming spaces for local aspiring novelists. The Cliff Cave Branch of the St. Louis County Library, the Grant’s View Branch of the St. Louis County Library, the Indian Trails Branch of the St. Louis County Library, La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill in Creve Coeur, the St. Louis Country Library at Rock Road in St. Ann, the St. Louis Country Library Jamestown Bluffs Branch in Florissant, the St. Louis County Library Mid-County Branch in Clayton, the St. Louis Public Central Library, and the Jefferson County Library in Arnold are all participating in the Come Write In Program. Writers should contact these branches directly for details.
No matter how writers connect, Hayes said that the writing brought people together. “It’s a true community builder, even if only for a month or so, although I know people who have met up in NaNo and have stayed in contact even after December,” she said.
Younger writers and educators can also participate in NaNoWriMo through other programs. The Young Writer’s Program is geared towards students 17 and younger. It suggests a lower word count for students than for adults participating in NaNoWriMo. It also offers resources for parents, teachers, and other educators who encourage their students to participate in the event. Last year 80,137 students and educators took part.
Andrea Reynolds, graduate, English, and teacher at Cor Jesu Academy is St. Louis said that some of her high school students have done the NaNoWriMo challenge. “I have a few students in creative writing who have worked on NaNoWriMo for fun. Two or three of the girls will challenge each other to participate in the program. It’s always exciting for me as a teacher when my students are excited and self-motivated. They seem to enjoy the experience, even when they don’t quite finish,” she said.
Brittny Walker, graduate, English, teaches middle school students in University City and has used NaNoWriMo in her classroom. “It’s a great way to create community of writers,” she said.
According to their website, several hundred authors have published books written during NaNoWriMo, including A.J. Thomas’ “The Way Things Are,” which was published last year by Dreamspinner Press. Other novels include Alayna Williams’ “The Beautiful Land,” published by Penguin Books in 2013, and Abigail Lee’s “Chosen to Race,” published by iHomeEducator, Inc., in 2015. Other authors choose to self-publish.
Though NaNoWriMo encourages writers to do the initial work of getting their words out onto paper, the work of revising, editing, and copyediting, remains. “As my NaNo buddies would say, doubt – like editing, sleep, and bathroom breaks – are for December,” Hayes said. “And once I realized and embraced the fact that the first draft is always awful and that editing makes everything better, it became easier to let myself just write and get down the stuff that I wanted to get down, damn the consequences. It was definitely a lot more fun after I stopped worrying and just loved the process.”
“I found NaNoWriMo to be a really great experience, from the people I met to the stories I got to write, but I admit that doing it three years in a row became draining,” Hayes said. Though the process can be tedious, grueling, and anxiety-provoking, Hayes urged aspiring writers to try NaNoWriMo.
“For writers who need a kick in the pants to get a manuscript off the ground, I can’t recommend NaNoWriMo highly enough. Just make sure you are surrounded by supportive people and have plenty of snacks,” she said. “Somehow [I] was able to reach 50k in two weeks while attending community college – so yes, winning NaNoWriMo and going to school full time while also having a part-time job is possible!”
For more information on NaNoWriMo, visit nanowrimo.org/.