NaNoWriMo: A Truly Novel Experience

NaNoWriMo: A Truly Novel Experience

This month, NaNoWriMo—the shorthand moniker for National Novel Writing Month—can put you in touch with your inner novelist. Some half-million people around the world will be working toward a goal of writing 50,000 words in November as part of the Berkeley, California-based nonprofit organization’s 19th annual flagship project.

Participants who do achieve this high-speed writing goal are designated as “winners” on the website, While the trophies handed out are strictly digital, they earn the enthusiastic approval of this supportive community of writers. And there’s no shame in not reaching the full word count: There’s always next year, or the year after, for that. Finding your creative voice is a core objective of the NaNoWriMo mission. Setting a goal—albeit a fairly daunting one—and learning to work on a tight, 30-day deadline are also instrumental to the process of getting words to flow, flow, flow. A plethora of motivational tools and techniques help to challenge and inspire both seasoned and newbie “WriMos.”

Setting a goal–albeit a fairly daunting one–and learning to work on a tight, 30-day deadline are also instrumental to the process of getting words to flow, flow, flow.

Geographically defined NaNoWriMo regions, each organized by a Municipal Liaison (or ML), keep writers engaged and encouraged through online forums and in-person events that include meet-ups, plot-ins, and more, such as a “Midnight Write-in” attended by 14 local insomniacs in 2016. The 2,100-plus NaNoWriMo participants in the Lehigh Valley region logged 5,949,794 written words last year, yielding 54 novels validated as winners. 

Bethlehem resident Roxi Kringle, a photographer and senior living facility chaplain who volunteered for the Valley’s 2017 ML position, attended her first NaNoWriMo meeting at the city library two years ago. Although an experienced essayist, this was her first foray into fiction.

“I saw friends who were posting about it on Facebook and thought, ‘That sounds interesting—I’d like to try to write a book,’” she says.

While previously falling short of the winning word count, Roxi intends to stay on track this year by cranking out 1,667 words per day. (Pacing is at each WriMo’s discretion, so there’s no need to hit the brakes during a burst of storytelling prolificacy. Editing can be done later!) “The experience is amazing. I have a new idea and am really excited,” says the novice novelist, who describes genres she’s explored as a blend of romance, fantasy and epic journey, and humor-laced mystery.

Meetings that continue throughout the year enable Roxi and fellow WriMos to read each other’s work, edit, and socialize. Locales include public libraries in Emmaus, Northampton, and Bethlehem, and the ever-popular Panera Bread cafés because they boast both “food and outlets.”

While Roxi notes that there’s a “big difference between writing a book and publishing a book”—the latter being a goal to which she aspires—more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. Of those, eight eventually emerged as bestsellers, perhaps most notably Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which was made into a movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

Jessi Brown, an employee of Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown and ML, also has her sights set on publication—while remaining firmly focused on November’s challenge. This fifth-time NaNoWriMo participant and credentialed winner, a self-confessed writer since kindergarten, reports having had problems with finishing long projects.

“Life would happen or I’d get distracted and wouldn’t finish it,” she says. “An amazing benefit [of NaNoWriMo] is talking with other writers who know what you’re going through. So I can say things like, ‘My characters aren’t cooperating,’ and they don’t look at me like I have two heads.”

One of the tools Jessi finds most effective is the group Writing Sprint, a timed deadline (usually 30 minutes or less) that is mainly self-challenging. “At the end we come back and say this is what I got during that time,” she says. “It’s a little bit of competition since we’re trying to beat ourselves mostly, just to get the word count.” Brown also recommends creating an outline to keep the novel moving in the right direction, like a road map that can be changed along the way. And bring plenty of caffeine for the journey.

In addition to planning live events at the bookstore and other locations, Jessi has teamed up with 14 nation-spanning and international MLs for virtual interactions in the WriMoVerse. Although writing is ultimately a solitary endeavor, she notes that, “with NaNoWriMo, you’re not alone.”

All the logistics for navigating NaNoWriMo are detailed on the website, from getting registered to submitting your novel. There is no cost to participate and individual writers retain the copyright to their work. However, those looking for an extra layer of protection can use the word scrambler option since only the word count—not the literary content or quality—is being evaluated. (So while you could be tempted to type, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” 5,000 times, that approach violates the spirit of the event. And you might recall how well that worked out for the writer in the film version of The Shining.)

Weekly “Pep Talks” by established authors stoke the energy of participants with inspirational guidance. Browse the archives to view past messages from such literary luminaries as Tom Robbins, Nick Hornby, Piers Anthony, and Sue Grafton. A moving treatise (laced with humor) by Neil Gaiman invites the reader to view the novelist’s world from a personal perspective, where despair and perseverance manage to strike a productive balance. How? “One word after another,” he says.

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