The first time I tried to write a novel, I was a sophomore in college.
I was 19, and I had nothing to show for two years of university education but 45 days of consecutive play time in Final Fantasy XI. Yikes. I needed to change my pace. I decided to give up video games and the internet and do something productive, like, say, writing a novel. I confessed this pipe-dream on my LiveJournal, and a friend asked, “Joining us in NaNoWriMo?”
“What’s that?” I said.
NaNoWriMo, I discovered, is an annual writing frenzy: National Novel Writing Month. 30 days. 50,000 words. That’s the word-count of a 175-page book.
How cool would I look having written a book? It didn’t hurt that I wanted to see if I could do it, too, so I jumped on the National Novel Writing Month bandwagon. I spent most of November locked in my dorm at my computer.
I joined the NaNoWriMo legacy. This legacy originally began in 1999 with 21 friends in Oakland, Ca., according to the official website. Led by Chris Baty, they decided to quit thinking about when they were going to write a book and actually sit down and write it. By the second year, over a hundred writers participated, and the group had their own rules and a website.
I met with Keffy Kehrli, the municipal liaison for Bellingham and a senior and physics major at Western, to talk about this year’s NaNoWriMo.
“The biggest rule is that you have to write 50,000 words of the same story in November,” Kehrli told me. The municipal liaison is the organizer for regional NaNoWriMo events.
This is the eighth year of NaNoWriMo, and Kehrli’s fifth year of participating.
“I failed miserably the first two years,” she said. “Last year and the year before, I succeeded, but only by doing insane amounts of writing on one or two days. The first year I wrote about 20,000 words in a 24 hour space of time. Last year I ended up writing the 35,000 in about two days, at the end.”
Are all those words daunting? Not necessarily: NaNoWriMo breaks novel-writing down into something you can do piece by piece with a finished product in a reasonable amount of time. 50,000 words in a month is just under 1,500 words a day, or three pages of single-spaced prose.
“It’s all complete crap and not to be read by anybody and never will be,” said Kehrli on her own completed novels. “But that’s the point of NaNoWriMo. I have a good skeleton to go by when I get around to gutting those stories and working on them again.”
Last year, 59,000 people participated through the official website—NaNoWriMo.org—and over 9,000 people made it to 50,000 words by midnight on November 30.
“The point of NaNoWriMo is to say, you know you can find a little bit of time every day to do a little bit of writing,” said Kehrli. “And eventually you’ll get something done, even if you end up not liking it or it’s only for your friends or family. I think it shows people that they can achieve their goals, that they can achieve goals in the creative arts even if they don’t necessarily wake up every morning and think, ‘Hmm, I think I want to be a famous writer someday.’ And personally I think it’s good for me to have some sort of creative hobby as a matter of staying healthy.”
“I think the biggest thing that NaNoWriMo can teach people. Is that you don’t have to wait until this magical time in your life when you have years to write. You know, after you’re retired or after you’re done with school.”
As a part of being a municipal liaison for Bellingham, Kehrli is organizing weekly Monday meetings at 8 p.m. in CF 23. The meeting on Monday, October 30, is the kickoff party, and begins at 6 p.m.
I failed the first year I participated in NaNoWriMo, although not miserably. I made it to about 35,000 words, but I learned how to stifle that malicious self-editor and just write. More importantly, it prepared me for trying again the next year.
Last year, in 2005, I decided to give NaNoWriMo another go. I blackmailed myself into success: I told everyone I knew I was going to write a novel, and I signed up for independent study credit, so I had to finish or I’d face shunning. I finished the first draft of my manuscript within three weeks. My novel, Echo Lake, was upwards of 60,000 words of incoherent young adult angst, but it was finished. I was a novelist.