Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Can you write a novel in a month?
The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) officially began at 12 a.m. Nov. 1 for its 10th year. The event will end on Nov. 30 when thousands of people will have completed a novel and somebody will have won the challenge. In 2007, 15,333 people crossed the finish line, completing a 50,000-word novel. Over a billion words written by the participants were officially logged into the website.
Chris Baty, creator and director of NaNoWriMo, started this challenge in 1999 with 20 other friends in the San Francisco Bay area. Now in 2008, there are over 100,000 participants signed up and committed to the challenge.
“Every year, National Novel Writing Month feels like a crazed wildebeest escaped from his pen and I am chasing after it and trying to catch that thing down,” Baty said. “We never have enough resources, and there are always more people than expected.”
Although it may be a high stress month for Baty, he continues to expand on the original creation of NaNoWriMo.
“I’ve always loved books,” Baty said. “I was an only child, and books were kind of my siblings. I never thought that I could write one though, because I was intimated by the idea. So I created this concept of stunt writing a book to make it less scary.”
After convincing some friends to create it with him, NaNoWriMo was off. Baty and his close friends often got together at coffee shops and bookstores during any free time to write together.
“Novel writing is an awesome social activity,” Baty said. “Doing it with other people increases your commitment and productivity.”
After a month of late nights and lots of coffee and encouragement, six novels were completed.
“I was amazed at how un-horrible the books we wrote were,” Baty said.
The second year then came with a website and 140 people ready and willing to commit to writing an entire novel in one month. On Dec. 1, Baty announced 29 winners who had completed their novels.
“I never thought that it would be a reoccurring event after that first year,” said Baty. “I thought the second year we had hit our peak and it would be all downhill from there.”
Downhill was the last direction NaNoWriMo was going.
During the third year 5,000 people had heard about the challenge and wanted to sign up.
“I am going to die,” were the first thoughts Baty had.
Instead of curling up into the fetal position and abandoning the huge task ahead of him, he embraced not only the challenge of writing his only novels for NaNoWriMo but also expanding the competition.
Through the grapevine, friends of friends, links on blogs and a lot of hype, NaNoWriMo has not just become a nation-wide event but also an international event, reaching over 80 countries.
So what � these people abandon their lives for a month and lock themselves in their rooms to write an entire novel? The old lady who lives with 20 cats now has a new hobby for a month? No. It could not be further from the truth. Here in Madison there are over 500 adults, students and teenagers (and possibly old, cat-loving women) who have signed up to dedicate their month to finishing a novel.
University of Wisconsin freshmen Amanda Detry and Michelle Czarnecki are attempting the challenge for the first time together in their residence hall. Detry was told by a teaching assistant to check out the website, and she then shared the challenge with her friend, Czarnecki.
“[NaNoWriMo] seemed a little daunting at first,” Czarnecki said, but once they started writing in the early morning hours of Nov. 1,” it seemed more approachable.”
Both agree all their schoolwork gets done before anything else, and then they spend their nights writing away.
“Homework takes precedence, and with NaNoWriMo there is no penalty, so I am not hitting myself over the head with it. But our late evenings have been dominated with NaNoWriMo,” Detry said.
Interestingly, every person who attempts the challenge does so for nothing more than his or her own pride and as a personal test.
“When you think about it, there are no prizes, no judges, and no one reads [the novels]. It is not the most promising writing competition,” Baty said. “But I think that because it is not for fame or fortune, people just do it because it’s so much fun, and that’s the best reason to be writing.”
Last year, Elise Larson, UW sophomore and second time participant of NaNoWriMo, finished her novel and celebrated by printing off her certificate and mounting it on the wall to admire.
To finally cross that 50,000-word finish line, she wrestled with attending college and writing a novel.
“Caffeine and chocolate definitely helped a lot,” she said. “I would want to procrastinate a lot [when writing] and would use that to get my homework done. If I ever got any inspiration at all, I would start writing so I wouldn’t get behind.”
How Baty can manage directing and managing NaNoWriMo, working at the non-profit Office of Letters and Light, reading numerous e-mails, responding to anyone who would like to pick his brain and writing a novel of his own is incomprehensible for most people. However, for Baty, “the busier you are, the easier things get done.”
“I discovered back in 1999 for the first NaNoWriMo that squashing an entire novel into a busy month somehow makes it easier to do than if you give yourself 10 years. It is a strange law of human physics,” he said.
The future of NaNoWriMo is somewhat clearer than Baty’s original plan for himself 10 years ago when he started a club with 21 members who had a goal to finish a novel in one month. The Office of Letters and Light is launching a new event in the near future. It will be a month challenge again that will consist of making neighborhoods a better place. A person would “take on a project, spending a month working on something,” Baty said. “It could be giving a ride to the grocery store or volunteering at the local non-profit organization.”
There is a lot of hope to get a large group to make a difference if NaNoWriMo was able to get 120,000 people to write a novel in a month.
“If we can get a fourth of that to do something like this challenge, we can make a great impact on the world,” Baty said.
If you’re considering writing a novel in a month, look for more information at www.nanowrimo.org.
[Lisa Kibiloski / The Badger Herald]