For years, Hemingway haunted Thom Mahoney. The author of such books as "The Old Man and the Sea" howled in Mahoney's ears, sweeping through the 49-year-old Greeley man's brain every time he attempted to write his own novels.
Mahoney had the dream and the desire, but he, like many writers, also had the demon. In this case, Mahoney's demon took the form of one of the country's greatest writers who scorned every sentence that Mahoney put on a page.
Then he heard about National Novel Writing Month, and, for 30 days, the demon dissipated.
This month, novelists around the world are attempting to earn that title by punching out 50,000 words by the end of November. Since the program began in 1999, it's exploded from a small dare between founder Chris Baty and his friends to about 35,000 writers around the world this year. Last year 25,000 took part, and more than 3,500 completed the goal.
Emphasizing quantity over quality, the month is meant to encourage all those would-be writers to just do it and subtract the pain from the prose. Sure, the writing might be horrible, but then again, it might not be unreasonably bad.
Mahoney didn't write his novel during November, the official month affectionately called "Nano" or "Nanowrimo" by the writers who participate, and he won't be doing it this year, either. But he took the idea and used last February as his month. He raced past 50,000 words by the middle of the month and finished with 150,000.
"I had a major blast," Mahoney said. "It's really easy to get up at 2 in the morning and just write."
Mahoney, who has written four painstakingly troublesome novels, has big plans. He will be published. He will be on Oprah's book list. He will be sold in Kings Soopers. But none of those dreams have anything to do with fun. The month liberated him. After all, that doubting voice, the Hemingway scream, as Mahoney calls it, gets drowned in the sea of words that writers have to produce to meet the goal. Authors don't write 1,700 words a day for 30 days by listening to those voices, even if they come from a spouse.
"For the first times in 20 years of rejection," he said, "writing was a hoot."
Baty, founder and moral supporter behind Nanowrimo.org, pushed the idea on a few friends five years ago, mostly because he wanted some inspiration to finish a novel. He had dreams, too, but mostly, the impetus came from caffeine.
"None of us were aspiring fiction writers," Baty said in a phone interview. "Actually, most of us weren't writers at all."
But it turned out to be fun. Writers got to talk smack, a macho activity usually reserved for football players. They bragged about how many words they had, even if some of it was the Declaration of Independence, just to get things going. It was so much fun, in fact, word spread. Friends of friends started to join up. And then, in the third year, the blogs started.
Once all those Web bloggers started linking to the site, thousands began to join. He got some press, including a bit on National Public Radio. It used to be a joke, but in that third year, it became real, and for Baty, it became a full-time job just to get everyone signed up.
Now for five months out of the year, Baty promotes the event and his book, "No Plot? No Problem!" NaNo is now a company, with staff members and T-shirts and people who give out bumper stickers and pens to chapter heads in cities across the country. Now his role is head cheerleader, that Richard-Simmons-type guy who tells you how great you are at those self-improvement seminars. He sends out e-mail messages once a week to all the participants, messages of warmth that read, "you are awesome" and "we're all in this together."
"It turns out that writing a novel doesn't take a great idea, or a miraculous gift for pacing or dialogue," Baty wrote in his first message. "It just takes dedication. And a deadline big enough to injure a water buffalo."
This will be Eric Anderson's third year as a participant, and in those first two years, he demolished the deadline, with 56,000 words and 65,000 words. This year, however, may not be as smooth.
"I wrote 300 words this morning," Anderson, 42, of Greeley said Monday, the first day of the event. "And I thought, 'I'm in trouble.' "
So Anderson is looking forward to Thanksgiving. Not just for the turkey and mashed potatoes, but that's a four-day weekend crying out for lots of writing time, enough to sail in under the deadline.
"By just agreeing to play along with the ridiculousness of the gag, you put it aside for a daily routine," Anderson said. "It works for me."
Jeremy Dennis, 21, a senior at the University of Northern Colorado, calls himself the poster child for good ideas. He hopes participating in the event for the first time will help him get those ideas on paper. His novel is about a college-aged werewolf, but it's not a horror novel. He's a nice werewolf. Maybe. Dennis will see where he takes the story. Or, more likely, where the story takes him.
"It's a good kick in the pants," Dennis said. "You can weed out the best stuff later."
THERE'S STILL TIME
Yes, National Novel Writing Month is underway, but there's still time to sign up. Go to www.nanowrimo.org to sign up or for more information on writing a 50,000-page novel in 30 days.