Linda Smith, News Editor
November is a busy month for students, as the second half of the semester continues and preparations for Thanksgiving break and finals occupy most of their time. In a fit of what can only be considered madness, some students will be participating in a challenge known as National Novel Writing Month, also known as “NaNoWriMo,” in which participants spend the whole month of November writing a 50,000-word – about a 175-page – novel.
According to nanowrimo.org, NaNoWriMo began in July 1999, when Bay Area-based writer Chris Baty and 20 friends took on the challenge. On the website, Baty wrote that there were no grand novel-writing aspirations behind the challenge; in fact, they “wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands. Because [they] wanted to make noise.” While the novels were not great literature, they also were not terrible, and Baty and friends found the project fun. After that first month of what Baty called “noveling,” with six participants actually writing 50,000 words each, he knew that other people could accomplish the same feat, and NaNoWriMo was born.
Since then, the number of participants has skyrocketed. According to the website’s statistics, last year saw 256,618 participants, with 36,843 winners. The program is now run by the Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California.
Although there is no prize for completing the challenge, just over 100 winners have become published authors. But merely finishing the novel by the deadline is the main goal of most participants, as it is with University of Dallas sophomore Jerick Johnson. Johnson’s 11th-grade English teacher introduced him to the program.
“She said, ‘Creativity is not something you learn or can be taught to you. It is struggle, it is passion and it is imagination’s doorway to the life that is rewarding,’” Johnson said. “The biggest attraction to this challenge is not only doing this at UD, a school of academic excellence, but proving that creativity can drive the soul in such a way as to reveal the inner workings of our subconscious mind and of our surroundings, even while writing that five-page Lit Trad essay that is due the next day.”
English professor Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin feels that the challenge could be a good change of pace for students.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to free oneself to write in a very different mode than that to which UD students are accustomed,” Baldwin said. “Provided that one doesn’t take the pressure too seriously, it’s an opportunity to discover what is inside of oneself, what one has to say without the constraints of worrying over what anyone else might think, or however anyone else might judge one. I would hope that students might take the opportunity to adapt the challenge to their own needs, to whatever writing they might feel stuck over.”
Fellow English professor Dr. Gregory Roper said that in a way, the challenge itself is not particularly important.
“I want [students] to work on building good arguments and the craft of writing in that regard,” he said. “But I think it’s a neat thing to try and stretch and get out of your comfort zone.”
Baldwin said that the most important part of the challenge, in her mind, was for people to “find the form that clicks with them.”
“For some it might be large scale, for others, small scale,” Baldwin said. “Still, sustaining a longer train of thought – tracing an imaginative path that extends beyond the idle and momentary flash – might be a desirable exercise for all of us who live in this age of tweets and Twitters.”