50,000 words. That’s what one group of Nashville writers set out to complete over the course of a single month. They took on this challenge as part of National Novel Writing Month. WPLN followed their progress throughout the month of November and found it’s less about the word count, and more about the community.
It's November 1, and one corner of the Donelson Panera Bread is filled with the rapid, rhythmic tap of keyboards. A little over a dozen people are typing madly in what they call a “word war.” It’s the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, and Municipal Liaison Liz Hale says this mini-challenge helps set the right tone.
“Everyone starts writing as fast as they can, as much as they can in 10 or 15 minutes just to challenge each other,” she says. “Sometimes I find that hearing everybody else write really fast and typing gets me going and gets me writing more.”
Hale says NaNoWriMo participants need that motivation. In order to stay on track, authors need to write 1,667 words a day, not to mention developing characters, planning plot and building a world for their stories to live in.
This year’s novels were largely fantasy and sci-fi, with stories including anything from dragon flight school to inter-dimensional travel. NaNo veteran Misheal Crocker says setting up her novel means parsing out a lot of details.
“Well I need to have maybe a mail system, holidays, just the cultural things of what’s going on in the world,” Crocker says.
There’s so much to pack into their novels, a lot of authors find they can’t fit their whole stories in 50,000 words. At least one novelist had written over 100,000 words by the end of the month.
On the other hand, plenty don’t end up hitting the word goal. Dominique Marlow started the month prepared. She says this is the first year she completely planned out her narrative. But fast-forward to the 15th, and she's starting to run behind.
“So I am 15,000 words behind, which sounds like a lot, because it is. But I have in the past miraculously written 15,000 words in one day, so I have full confidence that I can pull this off,” Marlow says.
But after Thanksgiving, there just isn't time. On the 29th, she's still 35,000 shy of her goal.
“For me and anyone else who didn’t quite reach the 50,000 mark, it’s the beginning of the story.”
Many NaNo participants keep writing throughout the year to finish their stories, edit and workshop. It's formed a community that Hale says has kept her coming back for 14 years.
“I like the camaraderie of it. Writing is often a solitary thing cause it’s just you and the computer. This gives you the sense that you’re not alone while doing it.”
But their bond goes deeper than keeping each other company. Writing is also intensely personal — they’re each creating something original from their own minds. Crocker says that sharing that process with each other fosters a stronger, more profound connection.
“I get to spend time with people that I’ve actually made lifelong friends with, and we’re all working toward the same goal, while we’re all writing our own unique story, we’re all working to creatively write...and you realize that that’s just magic happening, because each book and each story that we ever read is magic.”
Even for the writers who might not hit the 50K mark, like Marlow, the community helps them not give up after November.
“To have a group of people telling you can do it, keep going, you can finish this, you’ve got this in you is really encouraging and is definitely my favorite thing about it,” Marlow says.
Marlow describes her story as a retelling of Little Women — in space. She says she’ll be working on it for 30 minutes a day until it’s finished. And then she’ll start planning for next year.