National Novel Writing Month

By Bethany Carlson

nanomemeFor the National Novel Writing Month participant, November is a frantic push towards 50,000 words: a time for dishes piling up next to the laptop, midnight plot inspiration, and self-imposed sleep deprivation. NaNoWriMo, as it’s often abbreviated, was established in 1999 and had over 300,000 participants around the world in 2013. The non-profit organization encourages people to spend the month just getting words down on paper (or laptop), rather than becoming bogged down in revising. One of Corvallis/Albany’s municipal liaisons, Elizabeth Halvorsen, is starting her sixth NaNoWriMo this year. “NaNoWriMo is the push a lot of people need to finally write those novels that have been bouncing around in their imaginations,” she said. “Some people get that push from the big goal and short deadline, others from the enthusiastic and supportive community.”

There’s no doubt that writing is a solitary pursuit, but local NaNoWriMo events throughout the month “offer dedicated, distraction-free writing time and optional speed challenges called ‘word wars’ that many people find helpful,” said Halvorsen. “They also offer a chance to meet other writers who are facing those same challenges, and that brings the supportive community off of the Internet and into our daily lives.” Writers can meet with other NaNo participants to work on their novels at two writing sessions throughout the week for the month of November. The Corvallis-Benton County Public Library will host write-ins on Saturdays from 2 to 5:30 p.m. in the main meeting room. NaNoWriMo’s Corvallis/Albany group will meet for write-ins at Francesco’s during November every Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m.

I heard about NaNo as a high schooler, and spent a couple of all-nighters writing. It turns out that parents of high school students tend to disapprove of unnecessary sleep loss, so one of these nocturnal writing sessions was spent hidden in the pantry with a lamp. My writing style slid from careful sentence-planning into a frenzy of typing without slowing for such distractions as spelling, plot, and character development. At the end of the month I was left with 48,000 words and a frankly half-baked story that I’ve barely looked at since.

My second NaNoWriMo, in 2013, produced a lower word count but a more viable story. I planned the plot and characters before the month started, and the result was the first few chapters of a story that I’d been imagining for months but had never actually put down in writing. Participating in NaNo is undeniably hard: reaching 50,000 words requires writing five to seven typed pages per day, according to Halvorsen. (I wouldn’t know: my NaNo strategy tends towards epic struggles at the end of the month rather than daily diligence.) “Life doesn’t just stop because you’re writing a novel, so there are a lot of dishes, laundry, school and homework, day jobs, and Thanksgiving dinners to contend with,” said Halvorsen. But for participants, the thrill of seeing the word count grow along with the story is worth it.

NaNoWriMo’s value lies in its ability to help writers ignore their inner editors and produce a story. A NaNo draft can always be polished, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. For those who question whether the speed-over-precision format is a valid writing style, NaNoWriMo’s website states that Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants started as a NaNo story. While amateur writers obviously won’t produce a bestseller on their first try, you can be guaranteed to exit November with a lot more words and story than you started. Bonus: you can irk friends and family with frequent updates on the status of your all-important word count. You’re entitled—as they look askance at your bagged eyes and caffeine twitch, you’re busy writing a novel. 

Learn more about NaNoWriMo at