Novel writing month offers new challenges to writers

For some, November means turkey and sweaters or that the holiday season has begun, but for many writers it’s time to pull out their trusty laptop and punch out a work of art.

National Novel Writing Month is an annual international writing marathon in November that challenges writers of all skill levels to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, according to the NaNoWriMo website. While the challenge is focused around the participant and their personal journey to reach the end goal, NaNoWriMo is also a non-profit organization that has formed an international community of writers.

In some cases cities and even entire countries compete against each other to get higher daily or weekly word counts. Salem, Ore. is just one of the cities that challenged Sacramento this year to see who can write more throughout the month said Kerstin Feindert, a Cosumnes River College English professor who is participating this year.

“[NaNoWriMo] shows you how you like to write and what your challenges are in any kind of writing,” Feindert said. “I learned a lot about myself as a writer.”

To achieve the large goal, the organization encourages participants to break the 50,000 words into smaller word count goals and to write every day.

“The point is more to motivate you to get your writing going,” Feindert said.

For some, the daily word goal is that push they need to simply get words on a page.

“I immediately liked the idea of having such a good limit, the 50,000 words, in 30 days,” said 19-year-old undeclared major Tyler DiBartolo. “I really find the hardest thing for me is to just produce, just sit down and write a couple thousand words. I’ll just kind of stop half way through and this really gives me a set structure.”

Avan Berner, a 19-year-old undeclared major said she was afraid she wouldn’t meet her goal one day, but when she did she ended up writing something she thought was really good.

“It made me feel really proud of myself,” Berner said. “It helped me believe that I actually could write something good. I guess it kind of gave me hope in a sense.”

Feindert said that although the challenge gives you a huge sense of accomplishment, it can also teach the participant a lot about time management. Cutting back on social media and TV time to write and thinking about the plot of her story while waiting in line or sitting in traffic were ways she said she took advantage of free time.     

Signing up for the event means making a commitment, Feindert said.

“One thing that destroys creative writing is lack of discipline,” said English professor Emmanuel Sigauke.

Although this will be Sigauke’s fourth time participating in the novel writing marathon, he said that NaNoWriMo “breaks the rules” of what it means to be a writer.

The organization has grown into a fairly large writing community and hosts meet ups around the world for those who are interested. Sigauke said this community can be distracting and can take away from the creative impulses.

“In its serious form, [writing] is a very solitary process,” Sigauke said. “So by encouraging community as they do, taking writing to be a communal activity, actually goes against what some people consider the nature of writing.”

Although Sigauke said he appreciates what NaNoWriMo is trying to do, he said writers should use this time for themselves to harness their skills and work on the issues that most writers suffer from.

“There’s the issue of goal setting, the other issue is meeting a deadline,” Sigauke said. “Those two are so important to writers.”

Because of the fast deadline, writers should know that this challenge is more based on quantity over quality.

“I wasn’t worried about the quality that much. Mine was just ‘Okay I’m going to get something on paper,’” Feindert said. “Just play around with it. Don’t worry about whether it’s going to work or not or whatever, you can edit it later. It’s just this playfulness. You don’t have time to constantly think about ‘Is this good enough? What will people say about it?’ Just get it on paper.”

Sigauke said NaNoWriMo is very “forward looking.” Participants aren’t supposed to plan, research or even correct mistakes they see in their story. It is about the continuity of writing.

There are those who do not like this idea because they believe it takes away from the art of writing.

“The whole process seems like a way to manufacture words,” said 21-year-old biological science major Cody Lamb. “Making it a production line rather than a creative process.”

Some view that “production line” as a perfect way to get drafts and ideas on paper.

Nathan Nguyen a 21-year-old civil engineering major said he wants to one day write an epic as large as J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” or J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” but that it requires quite a lot of material. He said he likes NaNoWriMo because it gets those creative juices flowing.

“It puts pieces into the jigsaw puzzle,” Nguyen said.

While skeptical of the challenge, Sigauke said he put aside that skepticism to participate because of the fact that some successful works like Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” have come out of event.

With so many reasons to participate, Sigauke and Feindert both agreed that participants must put all fear aside, just write and make that writing mean something to themselves.

“You can start writing a novel with no idea what it is that you want to write,” Sigauke said. “So NaNoWriMo is allowing you to discover a novel in the process.”