Friday, November 30, 2007

It's a novel effort: 50,000 words in 30 days

Gail Lynes (left) of Everett and Heidi Fuller
of Machias work on fast-and-furious fiction
at a National Novel Writing Month write-in
Thursday night at the Espresso Americano
cafe in the Everett Public Library.
Heidi Fuller looked up from her laptop -- from the novel she's furiously writing -- but only for a moment. A hard and fast deadline was two nights away.

"It's all about the word count," she said.

Really, it is? This would-be novelist has always assumed it's all about intriguing plot twists and exquisite prose. Nah, forget that.

This is the final day of National Novel Writing Month. Tens of thousands of writers from here to Tanzania are typing as fast as they can. They're telling tales of anything and everything to finish a crazy assignment: Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Their deadline is midnight tonight.

"The first year, mine was embarrassing smut," said Fuller, 31, a mechanical engineer who works for Boeing and lives in Machias. This is her fourth year of involvement in the frenzied writing exercise, and she's moved on to other genres: young-adult fiction and fantasy.

Wednesday night, she sat at a corner table in the Everett Public Library's Espresso Americano cafe. She was joined by her husband, Mark Fuller, and several others for the final Everett "write-in" of National Novel Writing Month 2007.

Quantity, not quality, is the overriding rule of this offbeat effort, with a close second being the notion that it's no fun writing alone.

Started in 1999 by Oakland, Calif., freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 other fledgling novelists, it's grown into a global movement organized through a nonprofit Web site, www. The site describes it as "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing." Baty is now a published author -- of "No Plot? No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days."

As for mechanics, writers sign up online beginning Oct. 1, and choose a "home region." There are online forums and local events. Some writers work in anonymity, others meet and share ideas. The aim is to lower the bar on standards to boost the odds of getting something done. Last year, about 79,000 writers signed up, and nearly 13,000 finished.

Works are submitted and a program counts words, which are unread. In the end, the writer owns the book. Those hitting the 50,000 mark are winners. There's no prize, beyond a certificate (you print it out yourself) and the satisfaction of knowing you've written something. There is a place on the site for donations to National Novel Writing Month efforts and a Young Writers program.

Gail Lynes of Everett has already hit 50,000 words, but by Wednesday her first novel wasn't done. "Mine is a sci-fi story. It's 1,000 years in the future. Archaeological digs unearth old musical instruments," said Lynes, 57, who plays drums as a hobby.

When she started, Lynes had a rough outline. "It took me where it was going," she said. With her husband pursuing a degree at the University of Washington, she's had time to write while he studies. She hadn't had time until Wednesday to meet other writers. Not long into the evening, they all seemed like old friends.

It's also a first effort for Mark Fuller, Heidi's husband, a 43-year-old research engineer at Boeing. He doubted Wednesday he'd finish in time, but he's had fun. He took a short-story approach, writing several tales with a common theme. "There's a particular object in each story," said Fuller, not revealing that object.

Claire Cruver and Ardyth Purkerson, both veterans of the effort, have serious ambitions. Purkerson, 29, of Lake Stevens writes children's literature. She's writing three novels for school-age kids, "one with anthropomorphic animals."

"I'm going to get published this time," said Cruver, 24, of Everett, whose story centers on angels inhabiting Earth after heaven becomes overpopulated. She's a fan of bestselling authors Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich.

Those writers surely have different methods than the cooperative approach this group takes. Heidi Fuller, a sort of cheerleader for the group, hands out little toys to spur writers on. They share ideas, too.

"I asked for the name of a soup, and Claire said 'chestnut and lobster bisque,' " said Heidi.

"And one night I looked at Mark and said, 'I need a disaster,' " Cruver said.

In four years of writing, Purkerson has been in several cities, once in Oregon, another time in El Paso, Texas. "It's fun. You meet new people at these gatherings," she said.

Asked what they all have in common, Heidi Fuller laughed and said "laptops."

Cruver elaborated, adding, "They're all very creative people, interested in reading and writing."

And partying, too. Still on deadline Wednesday, they were already planning a celebration for Saturday.

What about editing? What about rewriting and polishing those golden words?

"We save revisions for December," Purkerson said.

[Julie Muhlstein / HeraldNet]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

There's a whole lotta writing going on

Plenty of people have dreamed of writing a book.

Dreaming is one thing.

Actually doing it is another.

But this year, at least a dozen Grand Junction residents have devoted the entire month of November to making that dream come true.

Welcome to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which kicks off on the first of November each year and ends at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 30. What began as a writing challenge in 1999 among a small group of friends in Oakland, Calif., has exploded into a global, caffeine-generated phenomenon. In 2006, nearly 80,000 aspiring novelists signed up, of whom almost 20 percent met the challenge by writing at least 50,000 words by midnight local time on Nov. 30.

This year, more than 100,000 would-be writers from more than 70 countries cranked up their laptops or bought a fresh pack of pens, ready to tackle another round of the biggest writing competition in the world. In Grand Junction alone, quite a few have made a habit of meeting weekly at Traders Coffee on Seventh and Patterson or the caf├ęs at either Barnes & Noble or Borders. You can’t miss them: They’re usually clustered in a tight group near the wall — the closer to a power outlet for their numerous laptops, the better — around a handmade orange sign declaring,

“Caution: Novelists at Work.”

For Heather Nicholson, the unofficial organizer of the local chapter and a recent Mesa State College writing graduate, this year marks her third time participating in NaNoWriMo.

“This year, I’m not juggling work and school while (also) finishing a book, so I thought I’d take my time,” she said of participating in the 2007 challenge. “I can have a social life and still cook dinner.”

Her writing schedule finds her working well after midnight, which she said dovetails nicely with her night-owl tendencies.

“Working with a group is my chance to get out of my house,” she admitted. “I get encouraged by being around other people who are doing the same crazy thing, talking about (our) word count.”

As of Tuesday night, she was only 7,000 words short of the official goal of 50,000, and she’s confident that she’ll finish in time for the Nov. 30 deadline. Others in the group have already “won” the challenge but are continuing to write, adding to their word count while they finish their stories.

Amy Pittsford is doing NaNoWriMo for the second time this year and writes her “science-fiction/vampire” novel around her work schedule at Best Buy.

“My goal was to finish before Thanksgiving,” she said, “so I could take the whole weekend off. I didn’t want to have to worry about writing after work. Retail is crazy during the holidays.”

She’s already surpassed the 50,000-word mark, pumping out an additional 2,000 by Tuesday evening. While she likes the camaraderie of a group, she admits working with others can be distracting.

“When we first started (a few weeks ago), there were only four of us, and we swapped turns at people’s houses so it was a little calmer. When I’m writing by myself, I don’t feel as competitive; I’m not comparing word counts with anyone. It’s just me and my characters and my world.” Still, she enjoys writing with the group and looks forward to the Tuesday night writing marathons.

“There’s that social aspect of it,” she pointed out. “There are other people (here in Grand Junction) who are doing this, who like to write.”

Others in the group echo her sentiments regarding the group dynamics. Rodney Larson, a telecommunications engineer with the City of Grand Junction, has been participating in NaNoWriMo for a few years and was initially inspired to join while on a business trip to New York.

“I was in training there for three weeks, and I met some people up there who were doing it. (NaNoWriMo) gave me something to do with my nights.”

Like Pittsford, he’s already met the challenge but continues to write with the group. Writing three hours a day — two hours before work and an hour after — has allowed him to write over 60,000 words over the past month. He doesn’t limit his writing to November, however; his output is about “two to three books a year.”

“I’m not sure what to do with this (year’s book),” he said. A character-driven novel about a man slowly being driven insane by an undetected intolerance to gluten, it joins other manuscripts he’s written in the past and which he might edit for possible publication.

Megan Hansen, who graduated from Mesa State in May along with her friend and fellow creative writing major Nicholson, hasn’t quite met the challenge, but is enjoying the process all the same. Unlike the majority of NaNoWriMo participants, she’s chosen to write her novel in longhand, a technique she admits takes longer but which she relishes for the opportunity it gives her to really think about her story.

“I have a laptop, but like with Jane Austen or Shakespeare, so much great literature has come from hand-writing books. Technology has really taken away the whole idea of thinking about what you’re writing. You just type what comes to your head. Writing longhand gives me a chance to really think about what I’m writing.”

Like everyone else in the group, however, she carves out time each day to write. She and Nicholson also have a writing group that meets regularly throughout the year to discuss their projects and encourage each other’s progress. “We’re all English majors,” she said with a laugh. “What are we going to do with an English major? So we decided to use it and write.”

“It really helps to know there are thousands of other crazy people out there who are doing the same thing you are,” Nicholson added. “And it’s so cold, so you don’t want to be going outside anyway. You just stay inside and drink hot chocolate and write.”

When asked whether or not they’ll participate again in NaNoWriMo in 2008, the group unanimously agreed that they would. They’re especially hopeful others will join them next year in their quest to finish a novel in 30 days.

“Everybody should sign up and do it at least once in your life. Even if you don’t think that you’re a writer,” Nicholson said.

Hansen agreed. “Sometimes you have to be forced to do something you want to do. Carpe diem, man! Sometimes you just want to go home and rest, but then you have a writers’ group meeting and you go, and you think, “Wow, I really did something today,’ and you feel so good about it.”

[Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer / Grand Junction Free Press]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writers Race to Finish Novels by Month's End

For many of us, writing a novel is a lifelong dream we never seem to find the time to accomplish. But over a thousand Chicagoans, including students at a South Side high school, are determined to make that dream a reality. And they're going to do it all in the span of a single month.

F. Scott Fitzgerald spent eight years writing Tender Is the Night. Finnegans Wake took James Joyce seventeen years to complete. But this November, some Chicagoans are joining a global community of writers trying to finish novels in just 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo started in 1999 as a challenge among a group of friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. They found that writing a novel in a month was a lot more do-able than they'd expected, so they decided to try it every year. The event has grown from 21 participants in its first year to 79,000 people from around the world.
SAM: National Novel Writing Month kick-off party - 'I'm Sam, this is my first year…Okay, cool, I'm not the only one!'
Here in Chicago, NaNoWriMo participants meet throughout November at gatherings like these. Both first-time novelists and veteran writers, like Michael Goldman and Sarah Condic, bounce ideas off each other and offer tips learned from previous years about how to reach the official goal of 50,000 words.

GOLDMAN: Well, I started all purple prose everywhere, and then around chapter 2, I realized - I've written a thousand words in four days, I really gotta speed this up. And then it's like -'Tom said this, then she responded to Tom saying this!'

CONDIC: I replace all the contractions -'it's' is now 'it is.' You will never find a contraction in my novel.

The rules of National Novel Writing Month are simple. To win, you must write at least 50,000 words between midnight on November 1st and 11:59 pm on November 30th. You can outline and plan ahead, but you can't write a word of prose until the beginning of the month. Each day in November, novelists upload their most recent draft to the NaNoWriMo website, and the site then automatically detects and charts their word counts. It's not just adults who are getting into National Novel Writing Month.

RUSHEK: You're going to take an orange piece of construction paper, and you're going to write in the center a bubble diagram - My Novel - and then all of the ideas you could possibly do.

When Kelli Rushek heard about NaNoWriMo last year, she immediately thought it'd be a great opportunity for the Writers Workshop class she teaches at Corliss High School on the South Side. But it turned out the school didn't have the technology for the project.

RUSHEK: There weren't enough computers in the school for me to do it for the whole month. So, I brought it up to my kids last year and they were actually very excited about it. And then, when we weren't able to do it, they were kind of upset.

Then, earlier this year, she won a contest sponsored by the NaNoWriMo office to receive 25 laptop computers for use in the classroom. Two days before November began, Rushek surprised her students with the announcement that each of them would be writing a novel. Students like Allen Wallace and Kiera Torrey reacted with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

WALLACE: I was a bit shocked when she told us about it cause it came out of nowhere. She said the minimum was 50,000, and I kinda choked on my breath or something. But I'm going to do it anyway, because I like the challenge.

TORREY: I think it's gonna be fun. I'll get to see how far I can push myself and how much I can actually write. I think I might reach my goal, I don't know. If I reach it, I'd be happy. I might cry.

Allen and Kiera's teacher Kelli Rushek is confident that her students will make it to the finish line. They're motivated by the competitiveness that high-schoolers are famous for.

RUSHEK: So, there's going to be the student vs. student - "I'm at this many words, how many are you at?" And then there's the class vs. class. If period one is reaching their goal more quickly than period five - it's amazing what a pizza party will do.

To make the process as stress-free as possible for her students, she's letting them choose a word goal they feel is appropriate. She's also telling them not to let worries about grammatical errors get in the way of their creativity, as might happen in their other English classes.

RUSHEK: They might have had a teacher that said, 'Oh, you have to have a comma here, you have to have a period here. Your subjects and verbs don't agree.'

BATY: In some ways, it really should be called National First Draft of a Novel Writing Month.

Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, agrees that simply writing anything is more important than worrying about the quality of the writing.

BATY: The lesson that I've learned from this is that you can edit a bad first draft into a good novel, but you really can't edit a blank page into anything but a blank page.

For most people, finding the time and inspiration to write even that first draft isn't easy, but Baty thinks that what you gain is worth the trouble.

BATY: You do come away from it feeling, "Wow! If I could write an okay book in a month, what else can I do?" That tends to be kind of the start of a lot more other kinds of adventures in people's lives.

And those adventures might just provide the plot for your next novel.

[The Archives / Chicago Public Radio]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Greatest noveling song of all time?

The greatest noveling musician of all time?
Noveling songs. So I'm going to go out on a limb and declare "Out of Egypt" by Sufjan Stevens as my favorite noveling song of all time. Which is weird because it's really just a hectic mix of piano notes, musical wheezes, and windchimes that I would normally fast-forward through in a heartbeat.

But pump that song through a pair of headphones while I'm staring at a Microsoft Word document, and my brain elevates itself right into a state of heightened noveling awareness that's unlike anything else I've encountered. I feel focused. Inspired. Fluid. According to the copy of iTunes on my laptop, I've played "Out of Egypt" 288 since I loaded it in two years ago. At 4:21, that means I've spent almost 21 hours of my writing life listening to it.

It's a big question: What is your favorite noveling song of all time?

Grand Blanc area columnist says fellow Flint-area writers are intelligent, fun bunch

The best characteristic of writers is their imaginations never die, and they are always willing to share ideas -- no matter how seemingly ridiculous -- with other writers.

On Tuesday, I attended a gathering of National Novel Writing Month participants in the Flint area. The group, the Flint Red Hot Writers, meets at The Coffee Beanery in VG's Food Center, 5080 Corunna Road, Flint Township.

Meetings are 2-4 p.m. today, 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, 6-9 p.m. Thursday, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 11, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 15, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 18, 6-9 p.m. Nov. 20, 2-4 p.m. Nov. 25 and 4-9 p.m. Nov. 30. The group will celebrate the end of writing month with a party on Dec. 2.

Parents, single adults, high school students, college students and children as young as 6 showed up at Tuesday's session. The children are part of NaNoWriMo's Young Authors Program. Everyone has a username on the Web site,

Everyone in the group is encouraging, fun and kind. I came out as a novelist with no plot and was embraced. My fellow writers began brainstorming with me and giving me tips on how to come up with ideas for my novel.

Loren Burr, a freshman at Goodrich High School, teased me for not having a character, a plot or even a genre selected. It was all in good fun because I'm certain Loren changed his novel plot about three times that evening -- from a story about a band member to a Chuck Norris adventure to an angst-ridden action drama about a character named Gary Stu.

Cylithria Dubois, a former Flint resident now living in Bay City, eased my insecurities when she told me she was also struggling with a plot for her anti-romance romance novel.

Dubois, our group coordinator, introduced an idea that would help break writers block. The idea, which she borrowed from the Bay City NaNoWriMo group, is to write a plot device on an index card that goes into a box.

Writers who find themselves struggling during the month can pull a card from the box and must use the idea in their novel.

Mischievous grins appeared on everyone's faces. The writers began scribbling with ink pens of fury, stopping only to show the person next to them what they'd written on the index cards. Laughter soon filled The Coffee Beanery.

The first card Loren showed to me read, "Alien Invasion. 'Nuff said."

"That should help your novel get going," he said, sticking the index card into the plot box.

My favorite ideas the entire evening were also written by Loren: "Your character explodes. Go back two spaces" and "Your character turns out to be Jesus. Have you heard the good news? Extra points if his best friend is an atheist."

Let's hope I don't actually have to write using any of Loren's helpful plot devices.

The writing group motivated me further with free stuff. The NaNoWriMo swag included a sticker, refrigerator magnet, door hanger, ink pen, temporary tattoo and other fun stuff.

Now, I'm ready to write. I've got my swag, signed up with the Web site, attended a group meeting -- and my iPod is stocked with music only a 20-something could love. Wish me luck. It's 50K or bust.

[Matt Bach | Flint Journal  / The Flint Journal]

Monday, November 5, 2007

Austin NaNoWriMo Nature Write-In

Deanna Roy, a photographer and writer in Austin, Texas, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) participant, sent in these amazing photos and the commentary that follows from a nature write-in she organized for this year's National Novel Writing Month. These writers are among 300 or so Austinites who are posting word counts with headquarters. At the time of this 2007 write-in, Austin was ranked 17th in the world.

Down the short hiking path to the hidden waterfall, the breeze picked up a chill from the water, reminding us that despite recent 80-degree days, we were indeed noveling in November. A few writers shivered, but most of us pulled on our hoodies, exhilarated just to be outdoors with our books-in-progress.

Two of us were writing scenes that took place out in nature, so we eagerly listened to the calls of birds and the errant splash of a frog among the rocks in the shallow parts of Bull Creek. We captured every tiny detail to shamelessly pad our word counts, as is necessary when writing 1,667 words per day to make the goal.

LazyM in Her Hidden Spot
After an hour, we all walked around and talked a bit, complaining of numb body parts from sitting among boulders and tree roots. LazyM, the Austin municipal liaison, walked down from her hidden spot a distance away to chat with the others. Everyone agreed that the lack of internet access and the inspiration of nature were significantly impacting their word counts.

Silver at Her Bull Creek Desk
Silver (we call each other by the handles we use on the NaNoWriMo forums) set up a desk in the middle of Bull Creek. Her stuffed penguin took a tumble in the stream, but this made for another story to add to the mythology surrounding the Austinites' NaNoWriMo mascot.

We wrote on laptops, on Alphasmarts, and even by hand. Writing outdoors was a little painful, a bit out of the way, but definitely productive and a refreshing change from dark coffee shops and going it alone long into the hours of the night -- by Deanna Roy

A parting shot of NaNoWriMo participant Quasky, writing by hand.

[Ginny Wiehardt /]

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ready, set, write

Brenna Levitin, 14, of Worcester has a plot percolating in her head.
New to National Novel Writing Month, Brenna plans to write a chapter a day,
probably while sitting on the dining room floor, where she likes to work.
A brief item on National Novel Writing Month in Writers Digest caught Sariah Armstrong’s eye.

Ms. Armstrong found the idea of writing a novel in a month intriguing.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I can totally do that,’ ” she said.

And that’s how Ms. Armstrong, a junior at Fitchburg State College, came to spend November 2005 banging out a 50,000-word novel in the annual NaNoWriMo contest. She did it again last year, and she’s among more than 170 participants in Central Massachusetts for whom the clock starts ticking today on the 2007 competition.

Wrimos, as they are called, are really only competing against themselves. Anyone can join in the challenge by signing up throughout this month at In order to “win,” a participant must write a novel of about 175 pages from beginning to end and upload it to the Web site by midnight on Nov. 30 for an electronic word count.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing “the great American novel.” It’s about producing “the great frantic novel,” according to Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and program director. Participants are urged to let themselves go and just write, even if it’s nonsensical. It’s about quantity, not quality. Ms. Armstrong has written long passages in which her characters are dreaming or thinking things over. “That’s straight for word count,” she said.

Last week, 14-year-old Brenna Levitin was poised to start writing, with a plot already percolating in her head. Brenna, who is new to NaNoWriMo, intends to write a chapter a day.

Sariah Armstrong, left, a junior at Fitchburg State College,
and Sara Marks, a librarian at Fitchburg State College,
are the municipal liaisons for National Novel Writing Month.
Both write fantasy and science fiction.
But 50,000 words? She’s not so sure.

“You can always hope,” Brenna, of Worcester, said cheerfully. “I’m just going to write and write and write whenever I can. I’ll steal ideas from other authors and from my friends. It’s going to be fun.”

NaNoWriMo got its start in 1999, when Mr. Baty and 20 friends decided to see if each could crank out a novel in a month, just for the fun of it. They had a blast and the experience was uplifting, as well.

“My sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed,” Mr. Baty wrote in his online history of NaNoWriMo.

The next year, a friend built the Web site, and Mr. Baty, who lives in Oakland, Calif., sent out invitations to friends who, in turn, invited other friends. By the starting date, 140 people had signed up. Mr. Baty created a message board so that Wrimos could get acquainted.

In 2001, 5,000 people took to their computers, and NaNoWriMo has continued to snowball ever since, drawing teachers, graphic artists and auto mechanics, to name a few, from 70 countries. This year, soldiers serving in Iraq are among the estimated 100,000 people participating, Mr. Baty said.

Peter Elbow, a leading proponent of free writing — writing for a set amount of time without stopping — and the author of “Writing with Power,” said the NaNoWriMo marathon is likely to help a prospective author develop comfort and fluency in the art of using a lot of words.

“It’s good practice in letting writing lead to surprise,” said Mr. Elbow, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “One of the interesting things that happens when you write fast is things emerge. The plot happens.”

Mr. Elbow emphasized that free writing is not designed to produce good writing. But it can lead there.

“A lot of good writers talk about the words taking over,” he said. “Frankly, it’s what the ancients talk about as inspiration, where you don’t feel like you are in control any more. This business of writing and writing almost inevitably leads you there.”

That may well have happened to Sara Gruen, who wrote her New York Times best-seller, “Water for Elephants,” as a Wrimo several years ago. She participates every year, Mr. Baty said.

As NaNoWriMo gets under way, it takes on a carnival quality. There are more than 500 chapters around the world. Volunteer municipal liaisons organize get-togethers and monitor message boards. Wrimos can join 40 different forums, including “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul,” and, for the more upbeat, “This Is Going Better Than I’d Hoped.”

“We have people writing in Japanese and Swedish,” Mr. Baty noted. “We have kickoff parties in England and France.”

Closer to home, Ms. Armstrong and Sara Marks, a librarian at Fitchburg State College, are the municipal liaisons for the Worcester chapter. Both women write fantasy and science fiction.

Ms. Marks, a four-year Wrimo veteran, holds weekly get-togethers at Panera Bread, on Route 9 in Shrewsbury. Ms. Armstrong organizes group meetings at Moose Creek Coffee Co. in Leominster. They hold write-ins to boost writers’ word counts by coming up with games and posing challenges.

“Many people don’t know what they are getting into when they sign up,” Ms. Marks, 31, said. “They start off strong. The first week they have energy. The second week it takes a downturn. Things start getting in the way. They start losing sight of the goal.”

Each year, roughly 18 percent succeed, Mr. Baty said. Ms. Marks came out a winner the first year, but missed on her second try. She said she devised her plot and characters too narrowly. She also went to Miami to visit her family for Thanksgiving, and that didn’t help.

Ms. Armstrong has succeeded twice and can reel off her exact word counts: 50,071 in 2005 and 51,234 in 2006.

As Mr. Elbow pointed out, most of what is produced isn’t likely to be very good. So what’s the draw?

“At the end of the month, you look back on this OK book you wrote that you didn’t know you could write,” Mr. Baty said. “People start asking themselves: ‘If I can write a book in a month, what else can I do?’ ”

“It brings people to a new level,” Ms. Marks said.

NaNoWriMo is now a full-fledged nonprofit organization. It operates a Young Writers Program and has started a second writing marathon, Script Frenzy. Mr. Baty has published a book on the NaNoWriMo challenge. Its title? “No Plot? No Problem.”

Still, Mr. Baty is down to earth in discussing the future.

“At a certain point, it will level off and stop being cool,” he predicted. “There will be something else that will be cooler. For now, it’s an incredible thrill to let your imagination run amok.”

[Pamela H. Sacks / Worcester Telegram]

Ever try to write 50,000 words in 30 days?

Reaching a 5000-word minimum may seem unfathomable at 2 a.m. when all you’ve got is a couple of paragraphs and the paper is due in your 9 a.m. class. But somehow—somehow—it always gets done. In fact, if you’re an upperclassman, you probably suffer a moment of panic around 2:15, take a coffee break, come back and breeze through the remaining few pages with enough time for a nap before breakfast. Recently, a senior Editor at the Voice made a telling comment to me as I was complaining about a paper due the next morning which I hadn’t yet begun.

“A thousand words?” He scoffed. “That’ll take, like, an hour.”

He was right—but that’s not the point. Writing the paper was arduous and downright boring. Writing for NaNoWriMo would have been a lot more fun, and might have allowed me to keep up with the Voice editor’s pace.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. During NaNo, as insiders call it, participants challenge themselves to pen a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November. Winners are novelists. Losers, well—nothing ventured, nothing gained. Strict rules apply, of course. Absolutely no beginning before the official start date of midnight on November 1 (although you may use an outline.) No co-writing. No nonfiction, epic poetry, or screenplays—novels only. All manuscripts must be electronically submitted to the NaNoWriMo website by midnight on November 31st for the official word court. Break these rules, NaNo founder Chris Baty warns wryly on, and your novel “will be dismissed by the global governing council that oversees internet-based novel-writing events.” Beyond these rules, though, anything goes.

NaNo is already popular among college students. According to Chris Baty, founder of NaNo, some colleges even run NaNo workshops in their fall semesters, and professors “are flabbergasted by how much the students take to it.” Baty has his own theory about why college students like NaNo so much: “NaNo appeals to people who are at big transition points in their lives, and I think college is the first of those. There’s so much noveling material, and people feel like they have a lot of stories to tell.”

Not to mention that, as he puts it, “the combination of over-caffeination and lots of free time is a creative writing miracle!” The completion rate reflects this enthusiasm—normally, about 18 percent of NaNo participants make it to 50,000 words, but in college workshops the rate is between 85 and 95 percent.

Baty launched NaNo in 1996. The event consisted of consisted of 21 friends in the Bay Area armed with laptops and a month’s worth of junk food. Four of them completed novels. The next year there were 140 participants from throughout the West Coast and Canada. By 2003, there were more than 25,000 participants from more than ten countries around the world. On the eve of this year’s NaNo, Bays is “comfortable anticipating 100,000 adults.”

Eight years into NaNo, Baty seems awed by its following. “We’re the worst writing contest ever. We have no prizes and no one reads your book!” Winners—those few, nearly 13,000 last year, who hit the 50,000 word mark—must make do with a gold star attached to their NaNoWriMo avatar and the enormous satisfaction of having written a novel (or so I hear, never having won the damn thing.) But in reality the tangible benefits of NaNo do extend beyond the several thousand 175-page manuscripts littering living rooms across the world on December. In 2004, Baty began asking participants for donations to cover technology and coordination costs, and NaNo eventually donated $7,000 to Room to Read to build three children’s libraries in Cambodia. In 2005, NaNo participants raised $14,000 for seven libraries in Laos; in 2006, $22,000 and twelve libraries in Vietnam.

You can do it without leaving the comfort of your dorm room. It’s physically less demanding than the Marine Corps Marathon And as Baty says candidly, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.” When else in your college career will you be given free license—and a gold star!— to write as much BS as you can in the space of month?

[Louisa Aviles / The Georgetown Voice]