NaNoWriMo may sound like a high-tech device developed in a research lab at Georgia Tech, but in fact, it’s the acronym for National Novel Writing Month—a writing event that takes place every November. Chris Baty, an entertainment journalist and Berkeley grad, started NaNoWriMo in 1999 to “take advantage of the miserable weather” in San Francisco.
Some may think, “Writing a novel in a month? That’s ridiculous.” Yet, consider this: Ray Bradbury wrote his sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451, in nine days with a newborn baby at home. And one novel specifically written for NaNoWriMo in 2005, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, became a New York Times #1 bestseller.
To “compete” in NaNoWriMo, aspiring authors must first sign up at www.nanowrimo.com. Here, authors can upload personal details, plot summaries and pictures, or chat with others on the boards.
The website also keeps track of the total number of words written worldwide. But authors can’t stay distracted for too long if they hope to win the competition and finish their own 50,000 word novels.
Fifty thousand words is considered short for a novel, but that is approximately the same length as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In contrast, Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace is roughly 320,000 words. Nevertheless, NaNoWriMo competitors must write 1,633 words or about 6.5 pages per day to finish.
In 2007, an estimated 101,767 people signed up for NaNoWriMo to be “WriMos” (pronounced like a drunken person saying “rhinos”). By December 1st, 15,333 participants were declared winners. Amusingly or disappointingly, winners don’t receive any prizes, and no one ever reads the thousands of submitted manuscripts. People compete in NaNoWriMo to “open up their imagination and unleash their creative potential like nothing else,” said founder Chris Baty.
In San Francisco, competing WriMos converge mid-month for a NanoWriMo-sponsored write-a-thon called the “Night of Writing Dangerously.”
Writers must raise $200 to attend the five-hour event. In return, they receive a catered dinner, a chance to meet famous WriMos, a tote bag and are entered in a drawing for prizes such as tickets to area museums or… another tote bag.
The Technique cannot confirm whether Tech has had any students, faculty or alumni compete in NaNoWriMo. This is appropriate considering that Tech is not known as a great source of fiction writing.
When asked, two of Tech’s librarians could not name a single fiction writer from Tech. The Barnes & Noble in Tech Square packs the Tech authors section with filler, non-fiction books like Fluid Flow Measurements: 2nd Edition.
Yet, Tech does have some blips on the literary history radar. Visual Materials Archivist Mandi Johnson at the Archives and Records Management Office helped greatly in this research.
Most recently, Paul Verhaeghen, a psychology professor, published a psychological science-fiction tome called Omega Minor that has been called, “an overwhelming masterpiece about the madness of the twentieth century,” by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Two Tech alums are notable writers. Anne Lovett received a B.S. at Emory and a Ph.D at Tech before becoming a romance writer. Nicole Jordan received her Civil Engineering degree from Tech and worked at Proctor & Gamble for eight years making diapers before writing her first of 24 novels, Velvet Embrace, in 1987. Jordan tells young adults thinking about career changes “do it now—don’t wait until you’re too old to explore your dreams!”
Arguably, Tech’s most famous writer was Frances Newman (1883-1928). Newman spent time as a librarian at Tech in 1924—with a degree in Library Science, no less—before leaving to pursue a very interesting writing career.
Newman was one of the most controversial writers of her era, with bestselling titles like The Hard-Boiled Virgin and Dead Lovers are Faithful Lovers. She was part of the feministic Flapper movement of the 1920s, and her novels comically explored themes about the repressive and racist themes of Southern cultures.
So, Tech students, faculty, alumni and librarians who wish to compete in the NaNoWriMo can all draw from some historical source of inspiration. Whether anyone at Tech has time between midterms and finals to escape the “miserable weather” and write a 50,000 word novel is another question.