National novel project brings writers together

Esther French, 44, a creative writing major at WKU, writes during a “Come Write-In” event for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal for this event is to get writers to write 50,000 words by November 30. “Writing is thinking on paper,” French says.

Emma Austin

Every November, professional authors and aspiring writers come together for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an annual project aimed at motivating writers to write at least 50,000 words in one month.

This year, John Bowers, director of academic technology and Bowling Green’s National Novel Writing Month municipal liaison, contacted WKU Libraries Literary Outreach Coordinator Sara Volpi to host NaNoWriMo write-in events on campus.

“It’s good practice just to get in a writing habit if you’ve always wanted to,” Volpi said. “Some people write short stories during this time or work on something they’ve already written. I think the most important part is just writing.”

Several bestselling novels have been written during NaNoWriMo, including Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” and Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.”

Bowers has been participating in NaNoWriMo for the past three years, and reached the 50,000-word goal last year. The project is an opportunity to get together with other writers, he said.

“Writers are interesting people,” Bowers said. “Everybody has a story to tell, so we really encourage people to, you know, if they’ve got a whim, just give it a try.”

Bowers said NaNoWriMo motivates writers to write quickly, which prevents writer’s block.

“You just sort of have to keep pushing forward,” Bovers said. “Getting blocked is one of the most common and most awful things that happens to a writer.”

Participants often come to the write-in events with questions and to receive help, Volpi said.

“That’s the whole point of trying to bring people together in one space,” Volpi said. “Writing’s such a singular event; most of the time people are by themselves. NaNoWriMo’s kind of a way to get everyone together for a month at least.”

Bowling Green resident Alex Smith, 27, came to the write-in event last Wednesday at Cravens Graduate Center and Library to work on his current writing project. This year he will make his fifth attempt at reaching the 50,000 word count, which he has yet to do.

“Part of it is just the people and the shared effort that we’re all in this together,” Smith said. “50,000 words, I think 1,667 every day, that’s a lot, so we’re all feeling the pressure. It brings people together who already have a common interest.”

This month, Smith is working on a novel he hopes to complete by the end of NaNoWriMo.

“The main character is sort of a loner, a shut-in; he’s cut off from society,” Smith said, describing his working novel. “In the beginning he has a lot of rationalization about why this has happened to him. The novel kind of explores his reintegration with the wider society and how he starts looking at his own problems to improve himself.”

Smith said the idea is based on someone he knows, though he “probably won’t tell him that.”

Even if NaNoWriMo participants fail to reach the word count, Smith believes everyone can benefit from trying.

“[Writing] is one of the only things that I can find to voluntarily do that challenges and stimulates my mind,” Smith said. “Once you finish school it’s up to you to challenge yourself.”

Volpi believes writing is a skill everyone can benefit from developing.

“When you sit down and try to write it all out, you really have to kind of sit back and think more instead of just spouting off something,” Volpi said. “Sometimes I feel like if people just sat back and took a breath and wrote down what they want to say instead of just spouting off the first thing that came to mind, you know, we might all get along a little better.”

Reporter Emma Austin can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @emmacaustin.