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For many college students, November means the last home football game, tests professors cram in before break, and the first home cooked meals since August.
And for some students and faculty members, November means writing a novel in thirty days.
November is National Novel Writing Month, challenging aspiring writers to write 50,000 words in a month. The recommended word count is 1667 words a day, which if followed consistently, will yield exactly 50,000 words by November 30. Participants are encouraged not to edit as they go, as editing slows writers down and detracts from the word count.
National Novel Writing Month, referred to as “NaNoWriMo” by the founders and participants, has a set of guidelines for those willing to take the plunge. The rules are simple but challenging: participants are required to write a work of fiction, and they can’t include anything written before November 1.
“Winning” NaNoWriMo, or reaching 50,000 words, has its perks. First, the bragging rights — in 2010, only 18 percent of NaNoWriMo participants completed and verified their 50,000 words, so being able to say you won is quite an accomplishment. Second, winners are compiled in an official list on the NaNoWriMo website and receive a certificate of completion online.
Writing 50,000 words in a month is a daunting task on its own, but when it’s piled onto a college student’s already hefty workload, it seems almost impossible.
“It’s hard to juggle [NaNoWriMo] and everything else; Sometimes I write on the bus,” said Lisa Nicolai, a 19-year-old sophomore electrical engineering major. “Generally, I prioritize my homework — I’m a little behind on word count, but that’s what weekends and Thanksgiving break are for.”
For her second year participating in NaNoWriMo, Nicolai is writing a story inspired by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In her novel, she will elaborate on the curse cast on the beast and expand the characters’ backstories.
“I got the idea when I was watching [the movie], and I was wondering why most of the castle was ruined, but the library was still beautiful,” Nicolai said. “I came up with a story that would account for that.”
Matt Green, a 19-year-old sophomore applied math major, found inspiration in U2’s album “The Joshua Tree” for his novel. He is writing about a military veteran in the United States helping a young African boy escape the war in his country to go to college in America.
“I’ve done NaNoWriMo for three years,” Green said. “I’ve never won before, but this year I think I should be able to complete my story.”
He also said he has trouble finding time to write with his various other commitments.
“It is very hard to find time because of school,” he said. “I write in short intense bursts and put aside whatever else I’m doing when I do write.”
College students aren’t the only ones attempting the challenge. The participants of NaNoWrimo range from high school freshmen to grandparents, from members of the military stationed overseas to university professors. At CU, both students and staff members have decided to write 50,000 words by December.
Susan Kelmer, an alternate format coordinator for Disability Services, is taking on the challenge for her ninth year. Her first year attempting NaNoWriMo, she wrote 96,000 words in 16 days with a newborn in the house. She has won every year since.
“What’s the point of doing it if you’re not going to finish?” Kelmer said.
She typically writes contemporary romances, and this year is no different; however, it is her first time including a semi-paranormal element to her stories. She said the ghost of her main character’s grandfather plays a big role in the romance between a crazy artist and high school football star turned butcher.
Although Kelmer has to juggle NaNoWriMo with her children, her job and the dirty dishes, she knows she will be able to win again this year. Although her family “knows November is sacred,” she does most of her writing at write-ins.
Write-ins are events where writers from the local area meet up to work on their novels. Participants often bring books to share for inspiration or bounce ideas off of each other. The groups also provide moral support for the times where writing 50,000 words seems impossible. They are typically held at bookstores or coffee shops, providing a distraction-free atmosphere.
“[Write-ins] are perfect because you only have what’s going on there,” Kelmer said.
NaNoWrimo, which started in 1999, offers hopeful writers the push to actually crank out a novel in a short amount of time. The time crunch prevents editing, forcing participants to just write. Obviously, some of those 50,000 words will be mediocre, but more than likely, there will also be scenes and prose that came out exactly like the author intended. The event appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds, including published and acclaimed authors.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ainslee Mac Naughton at Ainslee.firstname.lastname@example.org.