For one month each year, students, housewives and industrial hygienists across the world give up studying, partying and other duties to write novels.
They are participating in what is touted as “30 days and nights of literary abandon” on the official National Novel Writing Month website. This monthlong event, called NaNoWriMo by those in the know, consists of chapters in every major U.S. city, and many abroad.
The eventual end goal? 50,000 words.
That averages out to 1,667 words a day, the equivalent of about four pages in a Microsoft Word document.
Those who reach 50,000 words dub themselves “winners” of the contest, and some even sign book deals for their creations.
Unlike traditional winners, these writers share their title with everyone who completes the goal, as verified by an online submission system.
James Brown, municipal liaison for the Baton Rouge chapter of NaNoWriMo and University chemistry department building coordinator, said some participants, called WriMos, admit to cheating once the deadline approaches. A common change is lengthening character names from something like “Bob” to “Bob the Supreme Evil,” upping the word count by three every time the name appears.
This is one of the tips writers learn from one another at write-ins held in coffee shops across Baton Rouge, he said.
On Sundays in November, some of the Baton Rouge WriMos, a varied group of computer-toting writers, push tables together and share stories about their various roadblocks before falling silent for a timed hour, which they call a Word War.
A Word War, Brown explained, is an allotted time during which no one is allowed to leave the table. At the end, participants compare word counts, and whoever has the highest wins a keychain or similar trinket.
This is one of the ways NaNoWriMo has built a community of writers.
“The community is very supportive. It definitely makes a difference,” Brown said.
The first time he attempted to make the 50,000-word mark, Brown failed, and he attributed that to not attending the write-ins or getting to know the Baton Rouge WriMo community.
Now a four-year veteran, Brown has completed the challenge every year since.
Philosophy and microbiology senior Ned Denby has also participated in the event for four years.
She told Brown that despite her experience, she struggles transitioning the basic events she has in her head to paper.
Brown suggested some fixes for the issues, and said instances like this are why he appreciates the community that comes out of NaNoWriMo.
“It’s nice to be creative in a community of people who are trying really hard to be creative,” Denby said.
Denby said she likes to write, but most of the time other things come up, and it’s useful to have one dedicated month and a set goal for motivation.
“Most of the time, I’m trying not to flunk out of college. This month I give up,” she said, laughing.
Brown added that the month is a time management struggle, but always possible. He stressed keeping a connection to a story as the most important thing.
“The main thing is to just write,” Brown said.
Anthropology freshman and first-year NaNoWriMo participant Alex Bessell said the focus on word count forces writers to keep their stories moving forward.
Bessell said having her 14,000 words down on paper makes her feel accomplished, but it also makes her question her sanity.
“I went on for three paragraphs about squirrels,” she said.
If something isn’t working in Bessell’s story, she doesn’t have time to get stuck on it. She will introduce something new, and continue working.
Bessell said this is important, as she has the habit of beginning to write stories but never finishing them. She said she hopes this month will force her to finish the ending to at least this one story.
Brown said NaNoWriMo is a good impetus for people to begin writing. He said everyone can be a writer.
“Anyone has at least one story in them,” Brown said. “And it’s not as hard as you think.”
The next write-in will be held on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the University Barnes and Noble.