By Gabrielle Contelmo
November is a month for excess. On Thanksgiving, people eat themselves into a coma. Black Friday marks the beginning of holiday madness, which usually lasts for another month. But there is another little-known celebration for those interested in undertaking what is perhaps a foolish but wildly fun endeavor.
November is officially National Novel Writing Month, affectionately titled NaNoWriMo. People across the nation and around the world participate in what the NaNoWriMo website proclaims as “thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” The program encourages would-be novelists to try their luck at writing a full book. The challenge is to write 50,000 words (175 pages) between November 1st and 30th. From scratch.
Writers sign up at www.nanowrimo.org solely for the pressure of a deadline. The idea is that people will be more inclined to stick with their novel if they have to periodically update their word count, and if they have the moral support of other writers. Quantity, not quality, might seem dubious, but NaNoWriMo gives people permission to make mistakes, to write badly, and to abandon their fears.
At the program’s inception in 1999, only 21 people participated. Ten years later, in 2009, NaNoWriMo had 167,150 participants. Though many people do not reach the 50,000 word mark, upwards of 50 participants have had their novels published. “Water for Elephants,” by NaNoWriMo participant Sara Gruen, was a New York Times #1 bestseller.
One Union writer, Juliet Peck ‘14, has attempted the program in both 2008 and 2009. “I first discovered NaNoWriMo—to my vast disappointment—ten days after the month ended in 2007, and I have been an avid ‘Wrimo’ for the nearly three years since,” she said. Though Peck’s first two attempts “were met with abject failure,” she states that “the experience of direct, narrow-minded focus on quantity, not quality, and on turning off your inner editor for a whole month greatly improved my abilities as a novelist.”
Professor Selley of Union’s English Department recognizes the difficulties of NaNoWriMo for Union students in particular, since the majority of the month overlaps with weeks 9 and 10, and finals week.
However, she says that 50,000 words in 30 days is “definitely doable.” That averages out to less than 2,000 words a day. Professor Selley advocates, “If you can force yourself to do it, just sit down and write. You can always revise it,” echoing the idea behind NaNoWriMo. When asked if the effort will result in a finished product, she says “I don’t know, but who cares? If it ends up in a drawer, you learned something from it,” a sentiment to which Peck can certainly relate. Professor Selley notes that whatever strategy gets someone writing is a beneficial one, because, as a writer herself, she realizes that life often intervenes.
Despite coinciding with the end of fall term, NaNoWriMo is a fun-filled and creative outlet that everyone can try. For anyone who has ever considered writing a novel: here is your chance. NaNoWriMo offers pressure, support, and best of all, an excuse to follow your dreams.