Monday, November 10, 2014


NaNoWriMo. It echoes vaguely of medical technology, or perhaps a fictional zoological experiment gone horribly wrong. But no, NaNoWriMo is the not entirely euphonious acronym for National Novel Writing Month. Founded in 1999, the program has grown from the original 21 San Francisco area writers to over 300,000 adult writers working around the world. And that doesn’t even include the Young Writer’s Program, which facilitates events in schools, libraries, and on-line to encourage young people in their pursuit of writing of fiction.

Chris Baty, founder and spokesman, calls it noveling. And while the idea for the annual event was to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, the purpose was to rediscover our own capacities. Writing a novel is hard; a complex creative and structural challenge that can absorb a writer for years, if not decades. The NaNoWriMo goal of completing a draft of a novel in a month’s time is both terribly difficult and terribly freeing, and compresses the process in way that can alter the writer’s perspective. “And after the noveling ended…,” writes Baty. “My sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed.”

Writing is all about the possible. Without the confidence, the faith, that one word will follow the other, there is nothing; the empty page, huge and menacing as Melville’s white whale, a dumb blankness full of meaning. 

What does 50,00 words look like? That's about 200 double-spaced pages, about six-and-a-half pages per day.  Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby was roughly 200 pages, so was Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, as was Lois Lowry's classic, The Giver.   But NaNoWriMo is not designed to produce The Great American Novel. It's designed to circumvent the writer's usual neurosis and prognostication.  It's not about writing a finished novel, but about finishing. It's about getting the story on paper - beginning, middle, and end. It's about the process, not the product. (And that's not to say the germ of greatness won't appear.)

The rules are simple. You must begin a new novel. You must write alone. And you must email a copy of the novel, with word count (50,000 minimum), to the NaNoWriMo headquarters, by midnight, the last day of the month. That’s it. The NanoWriMo web site is full of process markers, resource links, and outreach activities to support the novel writer in this endeavor. The idea of community is important here; working alone together provides the solitary writer with a ready-made support group and cheering gallery.

Seven Bridge gets in on this idea with its annual NaNoWriMo event, Come Write In!, providing dedicated writing times during the month of November. On Mondays, 6-8 pm, and Fridays, 10:00 am to noon (no meetings Thanksgiving week), we offer for space, snacks, and  quiet support for those brave, or perhaps foolish, enough to take up the 30-day, novel-writing challenge. "Writing a novel,explains Dennis Miller, “Is like travelling the universe on foot.” 

It's a long way to go. Better get started. 

Hollis Shore is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writer's Collaborative, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program. She was the 2012-13 Boston Public Library Children's Writer in Residence, and a winner of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her novel, The Curve of The World, out for submission shortly. Contact her at

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