A runner is to a marathon as a writer is to NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a grueling time period in when aspiring authors all over the globe try to pen 50,000 words to create a novel.
This year, a groundbreaking 500,000 writers are expected to participate, according to the NaNoWriMo 2013 press release. Writers on all seven continents, including a “very chilly writer at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station” will be typing into their laptops at a fever pitch.
“With NaNoWriMo, I feel like I’m in crisis mode – all day, everyday,” said Medill freshman Mackenzie Broderick, who hopes to become published with her novel in 2014.
When writers reach the point where they find themselves overloaded mercilessly with thesauruses or with a strong urge to hurl their laptops out the nearest window, NaNoWriMo has pep talks as quality encouragement. This year, famous authors such as Lev Grossman, James Patterson and Rainbow Rowell will send “NaNoMail” to participants to keep fueling their creative rockets.
“Like Woody Harrelson, I am short and bald. And I like a drink. I may be drunk right now, who knows? But more important, I’ve done this before and lived. So I’m here to tell you: it is survivable,” said Lev Grossman in his NaNoMail pep talk on Nov. 19.
Stacy Walter, municipal NaNoWriMo liaison for Chicago, vouched for the community that NaNoWriMo inevitably grants to novelists.
“Writing can get lonely,” Walter said. “Knowing that you have a group of friends you can call on who are just as crazy as you are, who will sit with you at a coffee shop while talking about word wars and sprints, giving you props for that brilliant line you just wrote – that makes NaNoWriMo a great thing to do.”
To keep up in the race, participants should ideally pen 1,667 words a day. There’s a high drop-off rate as the month progresses, so there is an element of competition that keeps the drive going, according to Walter. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, notable works such as Water For Elephants, The Night Circus, and Persistence of Memory have been published.
This year, North by Northwestern tracked the progress of our very own NaNoWriMo novelists on campus.
Meet the authors
Sarah Rappaport, McCormick sophomore
Favorite Author: John Irving
Favorite book: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
What she’s writing: A series of ten vignettes about a girl struggling with emotional issues, her relationship with religion and an over active imagination. She’s modeling it on the antihero archetype, with a few twists. It’s young adult fiction.
Her analogy for NaNoWriMo: NaNoWriMo is like water skiing behind a boat, except that the boat is getting pulled 1,667 miles an hour and you keep getting distracted by YouTube videos.
Jenna Katz, Weinberg junior
Favorite author: J. K. Rowling
Favorite book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
What she’s writing: A young adult fiction novel from the perspective of a teenage boy named Liam whose dad just died, and how he is and isn’t dealing with it. Two characters will help him, but one is going to be destructive in the end.
Her analogy for NaNoWriMo: The Hunger Games. You do what you can to win, to make it to the end, with other people who survived giving you advice and help as you go.
Mackenzie Broderick, Medill freshman
Favorite author: Monica McCarty, Jane Austen and Ray Bradbury
Favorite book: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
What she’s writing: A historical romance novel set in the late 19th Century in the American West. Two American professors have a feud about who can discover the most dinosaur species, and proceed to sabotage each other in crazy ways. A heroine digs for fossils while the hero tries to throw off her efforts.
Her analogy for NaNoWriMo: Imagine you’re steering a train, but you also have to build the tracks as you chug along. That’s writing a normal novel. With NaNoWriMo, the train is speeding ahead and you have to keep it from exploding while also moving forward.
Anna Borges, Medill senior
Favorite author: J. K. Rowling
Favorite book: Feeling Sorry For Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
What she’s writing: No comment. “Sorry! Even my own mom can’t get me to talk about my [novel] plots. Sorry, it’s not a douchey secretive thing; I have anxiety talking about my own work,” Borges apologized.
Her analogy for NaNoWriMo: It’s like brewing Polyjuice Potion – lots of menial hard work every day between classes and despite it all, it only amounts to looking like Crabbe and Goyle.
Rappaport: At this point, I can’t imagine not doing it. I love writing, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a novel is unparalleled.
Broderick: I want to see if my writing can be published in Harlequin Magazine next year.
Borges: I’ve always loved to write, so I first tried NaNoWriMo back in freshman year of high school to see if I could do it. I got 1000 words in and scrapped it, so I tried again 3 years later as a challenge to myself. I’ve been doing it every year since as tradition.
Katz: Sometimes you need a kick in the pants to get you writing, and to prove to yourself that you can finish something. What better way than to have that external motivation and awesome community that surrounds it?
First Update: Kicking it off (Nov. 5-12)
Rappaport: It’s great! I’m ahead by a day in terms of word count, and I have no idea how it happened. I’m still in the honeymoon phase where I love my novel and am incredibly enthusiastic about it. There are so many details I have yet to work out so it can be in a completely unexpected place by the end of the month.
Katz: I hit 10,000 words yesterday and I have no idea how good it is.
Borges: As is the NaNo norm, quantity and quality have a serious inverse relationship, so let’s just say I’m doing great on word count right now.
Broderick: I’ve managed to stay on track, and by the end of tonight, I should have over 10,000 words or around 20 single-spaced typed pages. It’s been challenging somewhat given my classes and extracurriculars. I write for three other campus publications so some days I’ve written 3000 words total which is rough. The only way to improve your writing is to write more – trite but true.
Second Update: Teeming frustration (Nov. 12-20)
Rappaport: I’m frustrated mainly by the fact that I can’t drink coffee and type simultaneously.
Katz: Definitely battling out the inner voices telling me that my story is crap and that I should go back and edit. I don’t really have an outline … so I’m finding out where they story takes me as I write it. That can be terrifying and frustrating, because I don’t know if I what I’m writing is any good or makes any sense.
Borges: All my frustration is directed at Northwestern’s midterm season right now. I’m totally in NaNo-zone, but I really should be studying. I’m like 10,000 words ahead am probably going to fail my econ midterm as a result. Whoops.
Broderick: I don’t really go back to read what I’ve written earlier so I feel like some of my characters have had the same conversation three times. Also, I’m still struggling with how to make my hero a sexy Alpha male without him becoming a dick. Typical romance novel author struggles. Also I can’t write with other people around, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Elder lounge. It can be hard to give up that social time, but it’s only for a month.”
Third Update: Almost wrapping it up (Nov. 20-24)
Rappaport: My story is getting weird because I’ve started writing late at night and have gotten to the point where I’m running out of my initial momentum, so my characters are doing really odd things and I’ve thrown together a few random scenes to fill in my word count.
Broderick: This past week has been sort of a struggle. I felt like my story got sort of boring. I’ve kept up with my word count (around 18,500 right now). However, I’m excited because I had some inspiration for some exciting developments. Also I finally got my characters to where they need to be in terms of setting. It’s kind of a pain; I can see why Jane Austen kept her characters in a drawing room for 200 pages.
Borges: The premise is an old passion project of mine so I have an outline for it and am tugging along just fine. That said, it is FAR too complicated for a 50,000 word project. Word of advice: never try to tackle a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. Your final project will end up being a million and one words and you will screw all of your other responsibilities. As per NaNo usual, I’m a frenzied, sleep-deprived mess.
Katz: It’s hard to keep up the initial burst of energy and inspiration that comes at the beginning of NaNo. Now is where the wiring discipline has to kick in. I wrote over 300 words yesterday just to catch up, but I think I’ve gotten a second wind.