Ready, set, write

Unleash your inner author during National Novel Writing Month

Emy Wood

Prepare yourself for a speed writing marathon.

Beginning November 1, writers from around the globe will engage in a mad writing sprint to complete 50,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month (nicknamed NaNoWriMo or NaNo). The goal of this mad dash? Complete a rough draft of that novel you’ve always wanted to write.

“I’ve written a mystery/suspense/comedy novel,” said Stefani Leeper, sophomore communication major.  “It was about the value of friendships and how we can lose someone when we least expect it. I want [my books] to have entertainment value, but use that in a gripping way to teach lessons.”

She thinks NaNo may be helpful for experienced writers but is wary of its worth for newcomers. “With novice authors I think it’s a stretch. Instead of pushing out work in a rush they should focus on quality and not quantity,” she said.  

With only 11% of participants on average fully completing NaNo, the daunting task of 1,667 words a day may seem more like a chore than a fun challenge. In 2012, less than 39,000 of NaNo’s 341,000 participants were declared “winners,” meaning they submitted their 50,000 word commitment before the November 30 deadline.

Of course, a NaNo novel is only the first of many, many drafts. “By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create,” NaNo’s website reads.

The goal is not to write a polished novel ready to submit to editors and agents, but to force oneself to simply write every day. Practice makes perfect.

If after 50,000 words you’re up for a new challenge, NaNo encourages using January and February as revision and editing months. Good writing takes rewriting, and for some participants, November is just the beginning.

It may seem unlikely that anything hatched under such intense conditions could produce comprehensible work, but NaNo has its successes. Marissa Meyer’s young adult bestsellers “Cinder,” “Scarlet” and “Cress” all began with the 50,000 word challenge, as did “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, which enjoyed a spot on the New York Times bestseller list in 2006 and eventually became a movie.

Another bestseller, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, credits NaNoWriMo 2004 as its origin. In an interview with NPR, Morgenstern emphasized that the month-long journey was more about “exploring and making things up” than producing a shiny novel. “[Before], I didn’t write. I thought about writing,” she said. NaNo provided her with two motivating factors: peer pressure and a deadline.

“[NaNo] gives writers motivation and encouragement to write,” said Mike Mennard, Union College English professor and author of “Can’t Keep my Soul from Dancing,” “Shall We Gather at the Potluck” and “The Left-sock Tree.” “Sometimes we need that, especially when tackling long projects like novels.”

Yet even with motivation and encouragement, there’s still one issue when it comes to writing anything: time. “Finding time to write can be one of the most challenging things a student writer faces,” said David Deemer, a junior biomedical science major. “School often leaves [us] with little time to think of anything else, and this has been one of the most challenging aspects of my personal writing.”

Mennard advised setting aside scheduled writing time. “Treat it like a discipline and do it faithfully. You’ll find it works and you become efficient,” he said. “It’s part of my daily ritual. If I don’t write, I get grumpy.”

Whether you choose to participate and crank out a 50,000 word novel or simply draw out a potential plot line, use November as your own personal writing month. If 1,667 words per day is too unrealistic a goal, strive for 500 or even 250. Anyone who commits to making writing a habit is a winner in my book.

How to participate in NaNo:

  1. Sign-up
  2. Earn badges by interacting with the online community
  3. Use resources to become inspired
  4. Start writing
  5. Keep writing
  6. Submit your 50,000 words and claim your status as a NaNoWriMo winner!

Emy is a sophomore studying communication.