National Novel Writing Month spurs local writers to enter contest


November is National Novel Writing Month. There was a kick off event on Monday and another will be held on Saturday Nov. 5 at Varsity Doughnuts. NaNoWriMo is a fiction writing contest open to all writers and all genres of fiction writing. Participants must write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

According to the official website,, the event is held in November “to fully take advantage of the miserable weather.” NaNoWriMo is now in its 13th year, each with successive record participation numbers. Last year 200,500 people nationwide signed on to take part, of which 37,500 finished.

William Hsu, former municipal liaison for the Manhattan area NaNoWriMo and associate professor in computing and information sciences, said that while 15 percent is the usual success rate, this has stayed the same as the participants increase every year.

“Averaging 2,000 words per day is a tall order for many to be able to fulfill,” Hsu said.

Christopher Conner, Manhattan resident and this year’s municipal liaison, said NaNoWriMo is meant as an exercise.

“This not exactly a platform,” Conner said. “We are not published authors. We are amateurs who are trying to get this accomplishment of writing out a novel done.”

Conner said overcoming writers block and other issues that prevent people from writing is best done through get-togethers the organizers and writers like to call “write-ins.”

“I’ve been a participant for eight years,” Conner said, “And I have noticed many have a lot of experience in failing. I, myself, have only made the goal in the last two years. To counteract that, I have started with an emphasis on ‘shooting down excuses’ beforehand. I want the writers to think of things that will intervene with their attempt and purposely plan for those. I also want to get writers together so they can focus on writing, but as such that when they have problems, they can look around and see that everyone else is working on this as well and can get through their writers block.”

Megan Deppner, graduate student in English, said the write-ins are beneficial for another reason, too.

“I like that you had a group of people all working on the same problem who understood the same difficulties in writing this sum of words,” Deppner said, “I told myself that I had to write just as much as everyone else was, even if I got stuck in the story.”

Deppner said one way in which the group helps each other out is writing games, such as writing sprints where a timer is set for 15 minutes and each member writes as much as possible in that time.

“Some of the off-the-wall things we did was where a few of us would get together and just shout out plot twists in circle, or in the forums while we were writing,” Deppner said.

On the prospect of writing a novel, Hsu said that trying is very important.

“I have heard the sentiment that people have a novel rattling around in their head,” Hsu said. “I have similarly heard when putting up flyers for NaNoWriMo that no one in this college would be likely to participate because of this major’s requirements, or that they cannot seem to put the ideas together. From going to events, I know that people have come from those colleges and entered. I also know that some of them have even made it all the way to the 50,000 words.”

Some participants have even gone on to greater fame. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, has also been made into a motion picture, was a NaNoWriMo entry. There is also Michelle Springer, who has not been published, but finished the competition while working in the South Pole. About a dozen other entries that were later published are listed on the website.

“All you have to do is sit down and write,” Hsu said.