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ISSUE 118 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/15/2004

Writing contest open to aspiring Faulkners

By John Giannini
Staff Writer

Friday, October 15, 2004

For the past several years, a non-commercial group called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been encouraging aspiring authors to write a novel in a single month.

Between the dates of Nov. 1 and Nov. 30, participants must bang out a 50,000-word fiction story, and many writers are answering the call. Out of the 40,000 participants who took part in the 2003 program, approximately 5,000 reached their goal.

The program's official website ( gives several reasons to participate in the program. One reason is, To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from your novel at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

Who could argue with that? Besides, the site points out that this is an opportunity to really trash your apartment (or dorm room), because everyone knows that's what novel writers do.

I contacted two St. Olaf students who are planning to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo, and they gave me their personal reasons for attempting this literary marathon -- one of which involved trashing anything.

I would eventually like to write for a career and was excited at this opportunity to push myself to write during the school year, said Pamela Sersen '06, a classics and Spanish major, and several time NaNoWriMo participant. Usually I have a lot of trouble fitting in writing with my homework schedule. NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to get together with crazy people all over the world, all of whom are busy and still find the time to write.

Another returning NaNoWriMo writer, psychology major Bethany Jacobson '06, put it this way: "I do have several novels 'in the works,' but they've been 'in the works' for years now. I want them to be good, and NaNo is a good way to get practice in writing without messing up the stories I really care about."

Both participants and NaNoWriMo itself admit that the quality of the writing produced for the novel in a month program is often very poor: when Sersen rewrote her first NaNoWriMo novel she kept less than half of the original content.

But producing glowing prose is not necessarily the goal of the program. As founder Chris Baty said on the website, "It's all about quantity, not quality. It is a way to get a lot written and beat self-criticism by writing with essentially no guidelines and a good excuse for shoddy work."

It is meant to spur perpetual procrastinators to actually write something, or to give the inspired the extra nudge they need to put their ideas on paper.

In addition to setting up the program, NaNoWriMo also provides an online community to help those attempting the task. People from many nations log on each year to talk to each other, send in their manuscripts for official word counting, and even to gain access to free laptops which NaNoWriMo loans to its participants.

I have heard many people mention that they would like to write something long someday. I think it appeals to that part of each of us which really enjoys a good book.

But the vast majority of people who have this intention, including myself, never seem to get around to actually putting pen to paper and writing.

The NaNoWriMo program may not be for everyone, but for those who fancy themselves authors, or would just like to try their hands at writing a novel, it seems like a unique opportunity to beat the normal obstacles which assail writers.

It is an opportunity to put together a precipitously written masterpiece. After all, the great 21st century novel has yet to be written.

Contributing writer John J. Giannini is a first year from Zumbrota, Minn. He majors in philosophy.

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