Thirty Days of Literary Abandon

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Written by Madeline Kohlberg; Media by Austin Stephens

It’s five minutes to midnight and you are staring intensely at the clock, fingers poised and ready above your keyboard. The second hand seems to be moving unnaturally slow; perhaps something has happened in the time space continuum. Maybe time has actually slowed down.

No… It’s now three minutes to midnight and suddenly the second hand begins to pick up the pace. Now it is going unnaturally fast. All of a sudden, you break out in a cold sweat. You are having second thoughts. The idea of this project is suddenly too much; what if you can’t keep up with it? What if you fail? But it’s too late to turn back now. The countdown is nearly over: five, four, three, two, and one.

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It’s midnight on November 1st and hundreds of people around the world begin to type as one. They are all part of a furious challenge known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). They will sacrifice blood, sweat, tears, and time all to reach one glorious goal.

That goal is simple: write a 50,000 word draft of a novel between 12:00 on November 1st and 11:59 on November 30th. Yep, you read that right. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. I can already hear some of you saying, “That’s insane. Why would anyone ever want to do something like that? How would you even find the time to do all that writing?”

True, NaNo (as it is affectionately spoken of in the writing community) is not for the faint of heart. It means a big time commitment, gives you a perfect excuse to procrastinate on your homework, and will usually cut into the time you normally dedicate towards your social life. Many a sleepless night will be spent just trying to get a few more words in to hit your target for that day.

So, why do it? Well, in the words of the Executive Director of the non-profit that runs the event: “NaNoWriMo is an unbeatable way to write the first draft of a novel because it’s such a powerful antidote to that horrible foe of creativity: self-doubt. NaNoWriMo is a rollicking conversation about all aspects of writing, and an invitation to dare to do what seems impossible. As many NaNoWriMo writers have discovered, the best way to learn to write a novel is by simply plunging in to write a novel.”

According to the site, the program had some pretty impressive stats last year, with 341,375 participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists. Since the first NaNoWriMo in 1999, over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.

“Well, all that is great,” you might say, “but what is it exactly?”

50,000 is the number that is always the center of your focus. In order to write such a colossal number of words in so little time, you have to break it into bite-sized chunks. The magic number turns out to be 1,667 words written every day of the month. If you write 1,667 words each day, faithfully, you’ll end up with 50,010 words at the end of the month.

As you can imagine, writing 1,667 words a day is alright for a week or so, but it gets harder and harder to meet that target as the month drags on. So, what can we do to remedy that? We hit the internet, of course! NaNoWriMo is run by the Office of Letters and Light, a non-profit organization that is kind enough to provide its writers with a fantastic website that has all the support that you could possibly hope for. Forums, pep talks from published authors, writings buddies, and more all come together to help cheer you on to make it all the way to the finish line. And believe me, becoming a part of a community that is so enthusiastic about writing has done my own writing a world of good.


Say that you’re now possibly interested in participating. That’s awesome! But you may still have some questions. When you decide to participate, typically you go and create an account on the event’s website, As part of this process, you’ll choose a “home region” so that you can remain informed about events in your area. Greenville resides in the “Southern Illinois” region.

Once you’ve created your account, you can “create” your novel by creating a page with your title, your synopsis, genre, etc. At midnight on November 1st, you start writing like the wind. This first week is absolutely exhilarating. As you write, you keep track of your word count in whatever way you choose, and you update your count on the site as often as you like. And that’s only the beginning… you have a whole month ahead of you!

This year will be my third NaNo, and I am beyond excited. I’ve “won” by hitting the 50,000 words twice now, and I’m determined to keep up the streak. If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel, I’d strongly recommend giving this a shot. There’s no penalty if you fail. But if you succeed, you will have written a draft of your very own novel. How many people can say that they’ve done something like this? Even if you only make it to a few thousand words, those are words you probably wouldn’t have written otherwise.

If you have any further questions, feel free to visit the site above, ask them in the comments, or email me. I’m always willing to assist a fellow writer, and I hope to see some Greenville College students ready to take on the challenge this November! Good luck!


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