Jack Kerouac was known for locking himself in a room and coming out a couple of days later with a new novel. Kerouac had the right idea. How many people have ever said, “I’d love to write a book,” yet have never gotten around to actually doing any writing? It seems a fairly simple matter of just sitting down and writing it, right?
Well, the gauntlet has been thrown down for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Starting Nov. 1, participants get 30 days to write at least 175 pages of a novella (that’s about 50,000 words).
The contest ends at midnight Nov. 30.
Sure, it sounds mildly insane, but there is a massive international support system of like-minded people to fuel late-night writing sessions and to spur a person to begin the novel-writing process. Last year there were 25,500 people around the world writing furiously, and this year 40,000 are expected to give it a try.
Not all of this caffeine-induced sleeplessness and general madness is for naught — there’s got to be a special feeling after having completed an epic piece of prose in just 30 days or less. A certificate is e-mailed to those who complete the challenge.
The challenge is an experiment to get people to stop whining about how they’ve always wanted to sit down and write. However, the goal is not quality, it’s quantity — people do not expect to win a Pulitzer Prize from their efforts, though they are guaranteed to at least be better than James Joyce (have you ever read Ulysses?).
The NaNoWriMo Web site explains the purpose of the challenge even better: “The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art and watching others make big, messy art lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.”
However, no one ever knows what’s going to happen. Lani Diane Rich polished and published her NaNoWriMo novel that she penned in November 2002.
As to the origins of this literary happening, Chris Baty, who helped found NaNoWriMo in 1999, then with a modest 21 participants, wrote, “The story of NaNoWriMo’s inception goes like this: I was 26 and high as a kite on Peet’s coffee. And, in a moment of caffeinated ambition, I had the idea that it would be pretty great to write a novel in a month. And it would be even cooler if I could get a bunch of friends to write novels with me.”
Students who like to write, students whose ambition is to write the great American novel or English majors who constantly question whether they could perform if their backs were to the wall, this is it. This is the time to be a hero. It’s also something that ought to be a great experience to brag about to friends and strangers alike.
Plus, there’s a third reason NaNoWriMo exists. Besides getting people to sit down and write, NaNoWriMo’s stated mission is to promote literacy. This year, the organization has partnered with Room to Read, a nonprofit children’s charity, to establish libraries in two towns in Cambodia, according to www.nanowrimo.org .
Signing up to write a novel in a month is free, but those who buy NaNoWriMo t-shirts or want to donate can go to the “Donation Station and Store” on the Web site.
AJ Rollo is a freshman majoring in literature and philosophy. He, too, is taking up the NaNoWriMo gauntlet.
Students wanting to join in the challenge should visit www.nanowrimo.org for more information.