BY DEANNA KALIAN ’20
“I have a history of dragging friends into questionable endeavors,” explained Chris Baty, the creator of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. “And NaNoWriMo was one of many self-improvement schemes that began with me saying ‘What if we all got together and….’”
According to the Huffington Post’s 2013 interview with Baty, he and 21 friends decided they would each write a 50,000-word novel in November of 1999. They barely believed they would manage to finish the challenge, never mind start a wildly successful online writing platform. Yet in 2005, National Novel Writing Month became an official nonprofit, and a movement was born.
Every November, NaNoWriMo hosts a free online platform wherein thousands of aspiring writers around the world encourage each other to reach the same 50,000- word goal. This entails writing approximately 1,667 words per day during the month of November to reach 50,000 words — or the official length of a novel — by the end of the month. Participants can create profiles, list current and past projects, log specific goals, and participate in a slew of writing-themed forums. The site also provides authors with a graph to chart their progress throughout the month.
According to NaNoWriMo’s official website, 402,142 participants reached the goal and “walked away [as] novelists” in 2017. Participants in the program have published almost 500 novels traditionally, not including selfpublished books. Popular novels penned during NaNoWriMo include Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” published in 2006; Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” published in 2013; and Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder,” the first installment of the wildly popular “Lunar Chronicles,” published in 2012.
NaNoWriMo also hosts famous authors like Roxane Gay, John Green, Veronica Roth and Gene Luen Yang, who offer mentorship to participants through pep talks, “inspirational” letters sent to every participant’s digital mailbox. This year, NaNoWriMo is hosting Andy Weir, author of “The Martian;” Justina Ireland, author of New York Times best seller “Dread Nation,” Min Jin Lee, author of “Pachinko,” a finalist for the National Book Award, and Francesca Lia Block, the celebrated author of more than twenty-five volumes of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and short stories.
“[Writing] is more like gardening, where the work is hard and unpleasant but the result is beautiful,” Weir wrote in his 2018 pep talk. “The words you’re putting down aren’t wasted.”
NaNoWriMo’s mission statement reads: “National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds — on and off the page.”
Dozens of Mount Holyoke students are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and several have taken it on in the past. Many, like Emily Carle ’21 and Sarah Paust ’20 have reached the goal, while others, like Janae’ Murphy ’19, Remy Lynn ’20 and Maya Ron ’21 have adapted the challenge to suit their needs. Ron says, “I’m doing a modified version this year. [It’s] more about writing every day than hitting a specific word count goal.”
Cora Moss ’20, who has participated for six years, agrees with this sentiment. For her, prioritizing quantity over quality is an effective way to write. “I find the focus on word count pretty motivating, even when I haven’t won,” said Moss. “It gives me an extra push to keep writing, even if I feel stuck or worry [that] what I’m writing isn’t good enough. I think first drafts are always going to be messy. NaNo[WriMo] is great for just getting words down on paper, without worrying about how good it is.”