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NaNoWriMo asks a 50,000-word question: Can you write a novel in 30 days?

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 21, 2011 09:30 AM

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nanowrimo calendar.jpgBy Tamar Zmora

Stephen King says in his book On Writing that he writes 10 pages a day -- holidays and weekends included. Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day -- "one page of masterpiece to 91 pages of [junk]," he said in a 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald. "I try to put the [junk] in the wastebasket."

While Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth wrote standing up, Truman Capote took the horizontal approach: "I can't think unless I'm laying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy," he said. Gertrude Stein wrote by night, and Joyce Carol Oates writes for one hour before leaving to teach her writing class at Princeton.

Every writer has their own rhythm and habits, and those participating in this year's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) are no exception. Wanna-be writers in Boston are taking full advantage of the "thirty days and nights of literary abandon," honing their skills and dreaming of a letter from a famed publisher saying, "Congratulations! We want to publish your work." Their names are unfamiliar now, but participants hope their works sit on your bookshelf or rest on your coffee table one day.

The concept behind NaNoWriMo is simple: Write a 50,000-word novel by midnight on Nov. 30 -- that's it. There's no incentive beyond personal creative fulfillment and the praise of peers upon completion. Participants are required to upload their novel for word count validation between Nov. 25 and Nov. 30.

NaNoWriMo provides participants with online forums to discuss their work and offer other writers advice and support and emails "Pep Talks" from published authors throughout the month. Libraries and bookstores around the country have volunteered their facilities as a space to muse and write that Next Great American Novel. As the famous adage goes, "it takes a village," in the case of NaNoWriMo, to raise a writer.

Kelsey Jarboe, a MassArt senior, is participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, juggling daily writing with a full course load of 4-6 hour art classes, an evening internship as a props manager, and filling out grad school applications. She's developing an art historical retelling of Faust, with a quirky mixture of the German Reformation and the cybernetics craze of the '60s in New Jersey. "I like the surprise of having an image of characters and letting the writing come organically," Jarboe, who conducted research for her story prior to the start of the month, said.

Despite her busy schedule, Jarboe finds "emotional management" -- rather than time management, as many participants claim -- to be the month's greatest challenge. "I'm 22, and I feel a lot of uncertainty," she said. "I don't know what's happening next year...I have my adult baby days. I think the difficult part is just to be stable and confident for the whole month."

Meanwhile, Corey Estlund, a creative writing major at Lesley University and the head of Page Turners' Association, a student writing organization, is working on a horror story. After only one week, the six-year NaNo veteran had completed 33,600 words. "The first time [I did NaNoWriMo], I didn't have a strong sense of my characters," Estlund said. "[This year], I finally have a story I want to put out."

Estlund doesn't plan her writing in advance, instead letting it come naturally wherever she is. She's realistic about her expectations of the month ahead: "I hope to get a solid first draft out at the end of the month," she said.

"I've always wanted to write," said Niv Sultan, a Harvard freshman and first-time NaNo participant, so when presented with the opportunity, spurred by a Facebook group created by a classmate, he couldn't say no. Sultan and five others meet every other day to write. "Knowing other people are doing it makes it easier," he said.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Or do you prefer April's Script Frenzy instead?

Photo by Clifton_58 (Flickr)

About Tamar -- I'm a recent Wellesley College grad with a degree in English and studio art. I grew up in the Midwest and briefly lived in Europe and the Middle East. My name is often mistaken for Tamara from "Sister, Sister." I love exploring coffee shops and am almost always highly caffeinated. I am very interested in films, the arts, theatre, painting, photography -- you name it -- '90s TV shows, and music.

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