BY SARAH CAVAR '20
“Write a novel? In a month?”
When I first heard about the existence of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, this was my skeptical first thought. That, and, “What a tedious acronym.” However, for many people across the country, and around the world, NaNoWriMo is a kind of religion. The objective of this month-long event? Complete a 50,000 word-long novel in just thirty days — a goal that, to many people, seems bizarre and impossible.
NaNoWriMo, whose official website states that “The World Needs Your Novel,” began in 1999 and has been a nonprofit organization since 2005. The objective of NaNo is simple: to write a complete novel from scratch, of at least 50,000 words, in one month. In fact, you’ve probably read at least one novel that was originally written during NaNo. Among the most famous NaNoWriMo works are“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, and “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer. Hundreds of NaNo writers have signed with publishing companies and gotten their work professionally edited and published, and still more have self-published. Clearly, for some, this writing-marathon works.
Accomplishing a 50,000 or more word goal (which requires 30 days of writing an average of at least 1,667 words per day) is no small task, which makes the sense of community surrounding this event essential. The competition’s official website even has a forum for writers called “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul.” That forum includes boards catering to those who, during the month, may experience mental health problems, or simply need to vent their frustrations. Some also post on the board to give others their advice: One user, ‘Peeling Orange,’ says it is essential to “have someone to cheer you on, whether it’s a partner, family or a writing group, even the forums because there are always points in writing where you get scared and need someone to pat you on the back.”
There are also many forum posts detailing tricks for attaining the high word-count necessary to complete NaNo, such as user ‘danodea’s personal experience and advice: “Instead of focusing on “Did I write enough?” I focus on “Did I get everything in my head down on paper? (...) Live your day of writing through your writing, not through your word count.” This quality-over-quantity advice is not only applicable to NaNo, but also to life.
These advice posts are reasonable, kind and practical, and thus distract the reader from NaNoWriMo’s objective strangeness. Even after reading extensively on the event, the same question still nagged at me: why do people do this? Why do tens of thousands of people around the world subject themselves to the hair-pulling stress that is writing 50,000 words in a month?
Quite simply, it’s because writing a novel is something that so many of us have always wanted to do. I and other amateur writers I know have opened many a blank Word document, writing the first chapter of a novel that will never be.
NaNo, however, pulls writing back to the forefront: it centers an entire month around that elusive 50,000 word goal. It gives the busy mother, the overworked student, and the businessperson an opportunity to be the writer they always wanted to be.
In spite of that feel-good reasoning, NaNo has its naysayers. There are those who think that forcing out a novel in a month will diminish its quality. Indeed, NaNo’s goal is simply to reach 50,000, writing quality notwithstanding. Others say that NaNo enables participants to be irresponsible with their life commitments, giving them an excuse to put off chores, eat just a little too much take-out, and trade a Thanksgiving with family for the unwelcoming glow of their laptop screen.
Clearly, NaNo isn’t for everyone. It caters to a demographic that is both committed to writing, and has the time to responsibly fulfill that commitment. But no matter if you “win” or “lose” NaNo, no matter if you’re fifteen or fifty, NaNo’s encouragement and supportive community can be much-needed. Even if I never even attempt to write a novel (whether during NaNo or at another time), hearing that the world “needs it” is just the encouragement many of us need to keep going, keep writing, keep creating.