Writers of fiction are usually solo artists, as attempts to produce the perfect novel can take a lot of time working alone. But each year during the month of November, storytellers take a break from solitude to socialize with fellow writers while doing what they love most.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an Internet-based creative writing project that brings together aspiring novelists from around the world by challenging them to write and submit a fiction novel of 50,000 words before Nov. 30.
“NaNoWriMo is a great community building exercise,” said creative writing major Julianne Bellin. “Writing is usually a very solitary thing, but with NaNoWriMo you can collaborate with people from all over.”
The UC Santa Cruz Writer’s Society celebrated NaNoWriMo’s official kickoff on Nov. 1 at midnight during a get-together at the Kresge Writing Center. About 25 students attended the event, which continued into the early hours of the morning.
“It’s very exciting to see people coming together to write,” said creative writing major Claire Davidson. “Even if they don’t all finish their novels within the deadline, I think it’s great to have that community.”
Students took breaks in-between writing to share their ideas with one another and snack on sugary treats, sipping coffee to further fuel their creativity. Most students at the NaNoWriMo kickoff party were eager, if not anxious, to get started on their stories.
“I want to take the ideas I have in my head and turn them into something tangible,” said computer science major Max Villet. “Hopefully I’ll find that hook and just go at it for hours.”
Davidson said a similar kickoff event was held at Denny’s Restaurant on Ocean Street for students who live off campus, and for other NaNoWriMo participants who reside in the larger Santa Cruz County.
Bellin said the event downtown attracted about two dozen people, including residents from Boulder Creek and Capitola.
“There was a sense of camaraderie … Even though there was some chit-chat, people were focused on starting their novels,” Bellin said.
NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of freelance writer Chris Baty, who started the project in San Francisco in July 1999. Back then, there were only 21 participants, most of whom were friends of Baty. Since its inaugural year, NaNoWriMo has developed into a non-profit organization that offers writing programs in high school classrooms around the world.
Bellin said the Writer’s Society at UCSC has celebrated NaNoWriMo since the society’s creation in 2010. Bellin said the project offered participants the opportunity to do something special with friends and family.
“Last year we had a guy who took part to connect with his son who stays in New York,” Bellin said.
Kathryn McKenzie, a journalist from Monterey County who was participating in NaNoWriMo, said the project was a great opportunity for writers to succeed in producing their very own book.
“As a writer, I sometimes doubt myself … but the aim of NaNoWriMo is to just go for it and get to the word count regardless of whether it’s good or not,” McKenzie said.
NaNoWriMo participants make use of forums on the project’s official website to discuss ideas and give feedback and advice to fellow novelists. Writers are expected to upload their work for online verification before the deadline of 11:59:59 p.m. on Nov. 30.
“Once you submit your story, you receive a coupon code for Vanity Press. They then print your novel and bind it for you, so you have a copy to keep with you forever,” Bellin said.
According to its website, in 2011 NaNoWriMo had 256,618 participants, of which 36,843 managed to finish their novels within the stated deadline. For students at the on-campus kickoff event, however, the project was not so much a competition, but rather a motivation for writers to put words to paper.
“In all honesty, I don’t think I’ll finish in time,” said creative writing major Brian Goulart. “But it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.”