By Kevin Matyi
To some, November means it is time to cram for midterms and start thinking about finals. For others, it is the start of the holiday season. To me, it is the time when I foolishly attempt to write a novel by participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word story during the month of November. Despite how impossible many people think this is, it is actually not as difficult as it might initially seem. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words. This is an average of about 1,667 words per day, or around 3-4 pages in Microsoft Word.
Aside from the word count, you are completely free to write about absolutely anything. You thought that squirrel was mildly interesting for some reason? Go write it in to your story. You had a new idea for how to get people to Mars? Get on a computer and make your characters implement that idea. While it may be a commitment to write so much every day, if 310,095 people managed to do it last year, then clearly it is possible.
Writers are given a lot of support as well. Throughout the month, you can be sent pep talks from published authors, as well as employees of the National Novel Writing Month nonprofit company — many of whom are taking the challenge alongside you.
There is also the option of attending write-ins in your local area hosted by one of over 800 people known as Municipal Liaisons. All of them know how difficult the process can be, especially if you are not a strong writer; however, they also know that anyone can complete the challenge and will help you in anyway they can, short of writing the story for you.
The company has also expanded its influence over the 16 years since the first month of novel writing. Now it has the Young Writers Program to promote “the joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms,” the Come Write In program based in libraries and bookstores to “build writing havens in your neighborhood” and Camp NaNoWriMo, which is an “online retreat, designed to provide the community, resources and tools needed to complete any writing project.”
Each of the extended projects are becoming more widespread as time goes on. In 2013, 89,500 teachers used the Young Writers Program, 650 libraries participated in the Come Write In program and 55,774 people wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo.
One of the things that I have found most interesting while participating three times is the complete lack of judgement. The spirit of the challenge is to have fun writing and to find your voice. Whether you want everyone to read what you have created, or you want to keep it just for yourself, it is completely up to you.
In my experience, writing a story so quickly means that you will create plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. However, everyone else is going through the same thing and dealing with the same problems. At no point in the challenge are you alone — everyone is rooting for you to succeed.
By writing so much, I have found that you develop another skill — the ability to completely ignore writer’s block. If you stop writing during the competition, you end up falling behind in your word count. In order to win, you eventually learn how to put something down on paper, even if it is terribly written. Remember, no rough draft has ever been perfect. That’s what editing is for.
My fellow Wrimos, I hope to see many of you at the finish line with empty cups of coffee and exhausted, yet resilient smiles on your faces from what you have accomplished. For those of you who do not make it to the end, I hope to see you again next year.
Now grab your caffeine, hoard the chocolate, put on your viking hat and become a novelist for the month.