Does word count count? Recapping NaNoWriMo
Since National Novel Writing Month’s inception in 1999, aspiring writers have plunked down in front of laptops and notepads, trying to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a daunting task, but over the years more and more people have taken it up (there were almost 37,000 participants in 2011), creating a worldwide program that kicks off every November 1st. With NaNoWriMo now at a close, we wanted to find out what people did to motivate themselves and stay on track as they churned out a high word count in a short period of time.
Rachel Adams hosted a “write-in” at Logan Square's Uncharted Books (2630 N Milwaukee Ave) throughout November, providing a communal space for people to engage with like-minded writers and try to push each other toward summiting that 50,000-word mountain. Similar groups exist around the world, extending the reach and strength of the work done at NaNoWriMo’s offices in Berkeley, California. Most of the program’s success comes from the camaraderie it creates: everyone at the write-in was under the same self-imposed deadline, and that shared pressure made it easier to forge ahead.
Interestingly, the guidelines surrounding NaNoWriMo weren’t taken particularly seriously at Uncharted. Adams and the other writers were skeptical of the goal of 50,000 words for the month. “It’s a little ambitious for 30 days. The secret real meaning [of the project] is to write,” she says, and not care about hitting a particular number of words. All of the writers at Uncharted were veterans of NaNoWriMo, and none of them thought it was a particularly feasible project. Instead, they saw the month as an opportunity to develop new habits. It was “less about writing the ridiculous thing I planned to write,” Adams says, “[and more] to get butt in chair.”
“I torched out on this,” says Ryan, another writer at Uncharted. He’s working on a series of interconnected short stories akin to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and thought the structure of his project would allow him to power through the month, moving on to different stories if he got bored or hit with writer’s block. But after about 4,000 words, he ran out of steam. He sees the month as a success, though, since it helped him “blow off the cobwebs” from his creative habits. He’s still moving forward with his project and thinks the new regime he developed in November will help him in the future. “I didn’t hit 50,000,” he said, “but I wrote way more words than in October.”