Writing a novel in a month, together

By Jess Morgan

Writing an entire novel sounds like a crazy challenge, especially for a busy Lawrence student. After all, it can be hard enough to finish reading a novel within a month of classes. The idea of writing a novel in that same time frame is a bit bizarre, but the task is worth the time and, while ambitious, definitely not impossible.

Creating a 50,000-word story in a month doesn’t allow enough time to carefully choose words and edit sections before moving on to another chapter. However, it inspires new writers to include writing in their daily routine.

“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a catalyst for getting into the habit of expressing yourself and seeing what you could possibly make within the span of 30 days,” sophomore John White, a member of Lawrence’s Creative Writing Club, said. Aiming to write approximately 1,667 words every day for a month helps to form the habit of writing consistently, even if not all 50,000 words are completed within that month.

Like everything else, writing is a skill that grows with practice. What better way is there to form the habit of writing regularly than by collaborating with peers and creating something without the pressure of a grade or the time to polish every word?

Whether participants choose to carefully plan their novel ahead of time or spontaneously write the entire thing, NaNoWriMo provides a great exercise. Preparation is important but, after completing the planning stages, the only way to find out if your ideas can function as a novel is to actually write it.

Stories can take countless directions. While working from an outline, loopholes and problems within the plot may not surface until fleshing out an idea. Even if the attempted novelist does not complete the entire task, the writing process that takes place during NaNoWriMo helps students to work through their ideas while engaging in word sprints, word dares and other NaNoWriMo-themed activities.

Writers participate in NaNoWriMo all over the globe and connect both on the web and within their own communities. Last year, there were 310,095 registered NaNoWriMo users on the web from 595 different regions, creating diverse online forums to collaborate through. Many local libraries and schools, such as UW-Fox Valley, host “write-ins” to provide writers a place to socialize and a designated time to spend writing.

At Lawrence, the Creative Writing Club also hosts write-in opportunities for participants. The longest of these sessions is spent at Björklunden during the first weekend of November. “I love going to Björk for NaNoWriMo. Having a nice, relaxing weekend away from school when all I have to do is write makes for a nice change,” sophomore Rachel York said during the 2014 NaNoWriMo trip to Björklunden.

Gathering in a group to engage in an activity that is inherently individualistic may seem odd. However, writing together presents the opportunity to discuss plots and characters, keep each other motivated and geek out about ideas together. Do not misinterpret the shared support; November is not simply “No Individual Initiative to Write Month.” There is a lot of value in collaborating together.

Talking through ideas with another person is helpful because they can play the role of devil’s advocate. Having additional perspectives during the writing process and questioning your own ideas before finishing a 50,000-word draft can add depth to your writing by considering more ideas up-front.

Getting together in these groups inspires collaborative growth not only in the month of November, but during the rest of the year as well. The events that spring from NaNoWriMo help set the tone for other Creative Writing Club meetings, leading them to take on more projects. There is always an increase in the amount of attendees at Lawrence’s Creative Writing Club events and meetings due to the writing festivities of November.

What might start as an attempt to write a 50,000-page novel could morph into a weekly poetry sharing events after members have spent time learning more about each other’s interests and writing goals. Having an event such as NaNoWriMo is important because it rekindles the aspiration to write and creates a supportive collaborative environment.

Attempting to write a novel over a short time frame may seem like a silly challenge to tackle, but completing the task can result in new friendships, a valuable daily habit and the inspiration to tackle other writing challenges.

A month of writing won’t allow anyone to become the next J.K. Rowling, and those who complete the challenge will certainly have a long road ahead of them if they have any intentions of sharing their story. I mean, one does not simply complete a novel ready for publishing in a month. Nonetheless, the challenge is a great way to start incorporating daily writing to your routine in an exciting, collaborative way, and it is worth the time and effort.