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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

How many words have you written today?

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

GRAPHIC BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

November is known to many writers as National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an annual creative writing project coordinated by the non-profit organization The Office of Letters and Light. The challenge of NaNoWriMo is to have 50,000 words of either a novel in process or a completed novel by midnight on Nov. 30, meaning writers must write an average of 1,667 words per day. The website claims, “The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks and write on the fly.” Winners are writers who have 50,000 words. They are verified from Nov. 25 at midnight to Nov. 30 11:59:59 p.m. local time. There is no real prize, however, for winning. Instead, one receives a “Winner” web badge and a PDF Winner’s certificate. As the website says, “The real prize in NaNoWriMo is the manuscript itself, and the exhilarating feeling of setting an ambitious creative goal and nailing it.”

There are only a few rules to NaNoWriMo and that is part of the allure. Although no writing can be done before the start of November, outlines, plot notes and characters from previously written work (even if not from your own work) are allowed. Additionally, writing cannot be shared with a partner. Other than that, there are no limits. The novel can be of any genre. Even if you hand-write your novel, you can upload a file made using the Lorem Ipsum generator in order to submit the exact number of words you have written. This may seem like a way to “cheat” the system without writing a novel, but it does not bring the satisfaction of knowing that those 50,000 words in your word processor are 50,000 words that you have worked on for a month.

Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is being able to feel a sense of belonging in a writer’s community. As of right now, 821,939,867 words have been written for NaNoWriMo 2010, a number that is continuously updated on the front page of the website. One of the features of the website is the ability to sign up, connect to other writers and, most notably, update your word count. The site gives you the ability to check on your progress through a graphical display with a red diagonal line showing how you are doing in terms of the 1667 expected words per day. That red line combined with seeing the progress of your friends is meant as an additional motivation to continue writing until the goal of 50,000 words has been met.

A small group which participates in NaNoWriMo is at Brandeis University. There is a Facebook group for NaNoWriMo and Jaclyn Willner ’14 is one of the administrators for the group. “Part of what I do as an Admin is set up write-ins (where a number of participants at Brandeis get together and write),” Willner said. She organized one write-in recently but, because of the short notice, there were only about 10 people. “Though I’m sure there must be more participants, since in just talking about it, I’ve had a number of my friends roped in to participating too,” she added. One of the other writers who attended the write-in, Anna Duey ’14, has been doing NaNoWriMo for four years. Duey has won NaNo from the years 2007 to 2009, and is currently working towards 100,000 words this month. “NaNo’s helped me to write a lot more quickly, edit every word and helps me finish things in general,” she said.

Other people, however, do it for other reasons. As Emma Lieberman ’14 said, “My favorite part about it is the bragging rights. Oh my god, the bragging rights.”