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“No plot? No problem!"
National Novel Writing Month Challenges Writers to Complete Works
By Dodie Miller-Gould
Fort Wayne Reader
“No plot? No problem!” so goes the motto of National Novel Writing Month, also known as NANOWRIMO. The event actually began in July 1999, when California-based freelance writer Chris Baty gathered some friends to help him stay motivated to finish a novel. The three gathered in Baty’s San Francisco apartment and all of them wrote, ate carb-based snacks, and treated each other to unrelenting trash talk intended to motivate the completion of projects. That first year, there were 21 participants. Baty and friends decided that if they could write a novel in a month, anyone could.
By 2000, an actual event was taking shape. A website was started, and once word spread of the idea of writing a novel in a month, the movement grew to 140 people in various parts of the United States and Canada. Instead of attempting to write in the throes of July’s heat, National Novel Writing Month moved to November to make the most of a month typified by bad weather. That year, the first Thank God It’s Over (TGIO) party ensued at the house of one of Baty’s friends.
The next year, 2001, 5,000 people registered as participant, and a movement was born. Currently, there are 351,489 Participant novelists from around the globe, 80,137 Young Writers program participants, 926 volunteers on six continents, and 1,012 partner libraries and community centers that welcome participants (known as NANOs, or Wrimos).
This year, Indiana has more than 12,000 registered participants. The state is divided into regions for National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO): Bloomington, Evansville, Lafayette/ West Lafayette, North, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Jasper County, Richmond and Terre Haute , and “Elsewhere.” The various regions host write-ins in different locations and participants are kept up-to-date on events via their region’s section of the official National Novel Writing Month website. The largest region is Indianapolis with more than 5500 registered participants, and the smallest is Jasper County with 185. Fort Wayne has 1,526 participants. A tiny fraction of whom make it to weekly write-ins and the parties to celebrate the kick-off and completion of the event every year, in addition to writing boot camps that help those who want advice with novel-writing specifics, such as world-building and character development, that are held in October.
The premise is simple, if potentially overwhelming: Participants challenge themselves to complete a novel in a month. As outlandish as this might sound to some, there are writing advice books that encourage writers to do exactly that. By writing 1,667 words per day, writers achieve their goals. Registering on nanowrimo.org allows participants access to tools to track their progress, to upload their works-in-progress, as well as validate their completed works. The official site is also where participants can easily access a calendar that details information about dates and times of write-ins, and social events. The website is also where participants receive “Nano Mail”—words of inspiration from Chris Baty and others that give them hints to overcome challenges and encourage them to keep going, no matter what.
NANOWRIMO is a judgment-free zone—the only rules are that participants write fiction, and that their projects be new for that year. Every winner is given an electronic certificate (in a downloadable format) to mark his or her achievement. In addition, t-shirts and other items are available for purchase. The proceeds help fund programs for young, underserved writers. There are also NANO kits for young writers.
Attending a write-in is as easy as accessing a calendar, showing up at the appointed place with writing tools—notes, computer or tablet, etc. There is no grading, no “checking” of work completed. There might be “writing sprints,” timed writing periods in which there is no talking, just an attempt to type as many words as possible in 10 or 15 minutes. These are led by the Municipal Liaison in attendance.
Fort Wayne NANO participants come from a variety of backgrounds, and the one unifying element is the desire to push themselves to complete the novel they conceived. Diana Hull has been involved in Fort Wayne’s NANOWRIMO group since its inception in 2010. The accountability and sense of writing community is essential. “The community of writers all trying to write novels at the same time is nice to have,” Hull says. “In my other writers groups, I've noticed we get relaxed into our full time jobs or lives,[and] understandably so, [therefore having] one month where writing is the top priority is nice.”
While the minimum word required for winning is 50,000, NANO veteran Hull has written a work that was 107,678 words long. Participants need not have a predetermined idea for how long their works will be.
Danielle Creech is a Municipal Liaison (ML) for National Novel Writing Month Fort Wayne region. She’s in charge of organizing a region’s writing boot camps, kick-off and TGIO parties, and write-ins. They also make contact with representatives of retail outlets and community organizations to attempt to get support for hosting write-ins or the group’s relevant social events. (In the interest of full-disclosure, the writer of this article is the other Municipal Liaison for the Fort Wayne region). For Creech, the social aspect of NANOWRIMO is vital to the success of novelists. “NANOWRIMO events are an outlet for creative introverts to get a bit social,” Creech explains.
Municipal Liaisons not only have to make the requisite connections to libraries and coffeehouses (places likely to allow write-ins), but they also have to write their own novels. In fact, one of the requirements for becoming an ML is having won (met the 50,000 word count) at least once. This can make the volunteer position particularly challenging. As Creech points out: “Time management [is a challenge]. It takes a lot of time to organize events, especially while managing your normal life, [plus] writing your own novel!”
Creech, a veteran of National Novel Writing Month for 11 years (she was involved in the Bloomington group while earning degrees), echoes Hull’s sentiments in that more writers should come out to the Fort Wayne events. So far, the Fort Wayne group’s events are consistently attended, but the number of people who are registered participants is far more than the number of people who actually attend. “I would like to see our group be established in such a way that it's known and comfortable for new people to join,” Hull says. “We see a lot of people who find the NaNoWriMo site, then come to us, but it'd be nice to attract writers from the area who may have missed the site.”
Jenni Hout is a former Fort Wayne Municipal Liaison who currently lives in California. She has participated in NANOWRIMO for nine years. For her, the sense of accomplishment is important, and could be a great motivator for anyone who has been procrastinating about finally writing that novel. Even though she does not live in the region, Hout has ideas about how the Fort Wayne region could grow and evolve. “I hope that the region will continue to offer the community the opportunity to meet other writers and encourage them to contribute to this excellent thing we are all doing,” she says.
Writers who attempt NANOWRIMO without support are sometimes not as successful as those who come to write-ins and other events. The organizers and veteran participants in NANOWRIMO recognize the natural writerly tendency to remain isolated. But sometimes, a different approach can help artistic types set and meet new goals for themselves. “Just try it! It’s an opportunity for everyone who’s ever wanted to do something great but was afraid to get started,” says Hout.
Hout was initially goaded into NANOWRIMO participation by a friend—that first year, she lost, (in her words “terribly”) and her friend won. Undeterred, one year, Hout completed a NANO project that was 150,000 words long.
National Novel Writing Month is an opportunity for writers to complete the work they have been putting off. It can also serve as a challenge for people who desire challenges. No one reads the works that are produced (unless writers send them out for publication—edit first, please), and there is an opportunity to meet other writers, and as a result, eliminate the feeling of isolation that writing can sometimes produce. In a city that could use more literary expression, in an era that prizes science-based disciplines more than the humanities, participating in National Novel Writing Month can be just the kind of rebellion that quietly, thoughtfully, makes a difference, one word at a time.