Iris Greer attempted National Novel Writing Month for the first time in 2014 after a friend challenged her to write a better disaster story than “Sharknado.” Since then, she has “won” (when writers reach 50,000 words) four times.
“I succeeded by her standards,” Greer said.
As the days get colder and the leaves continue to fall, local writers find themselves about halfway through National Novel Writing Month — often shortened to the melodic NaNoWriMo. In NaNoWriMo, which is held every November, writers seek to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. The rules are minimal, but clear: writing starts at 12:00 a.m. Nov. 1 and ends at 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30.
To complete this daunting task, many writers rely on the community in order to stay focused.
Lierin Woods, a recent college graduate in Coos Bay, is participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time. She said that the pandemic had a huge role in her decision to attempt a novel this year, because it has allowed her more time to get projects done.
She emphasized the effect of having an online community in her success so far. Having the exact same goal as everyone else has inspired confidence in herself as a writer.
“I think a lot of writers experience imposter syndrome,” Woods said. “They may think, ‘I'm surrounded by all of these gifted genius writers, and I feel so inadequate because I'm nothing like them.’ But then when you get in a community like this, you realize that you are like them, that you have the same goals.”
Daryll Lynne Evans is the executive director of Wordcrafters Eugene, a nonprofit literary arts organization that hosts events, classes and conferences to aid writers in honing their craft. For the past seven years, Wordcrafters has partnered with NaNoWriMo to host “write-ins” where local writers gather at structured events to find inspiration and increase their word count. Evans has moderated these events for several years and is also an annual contender, but this is the first year these events have been held entirely online.
Though the nature of the NaNoWriMo community has fundamentally changed, local participation has not dwindled much. Evans said that there are active Discord servers and Zoom write-ins that are keeping the community motivated to write. She said that the new dynamic has its pros and cons but is generally proving successful.
“Our Discord participation is a little bit slower, but we also see some new faces. So that part is really exciting,” Evans said.
Greer, a longtime participant, said that she dislikes the way the pandemic has forced local NaNoWriMo communities to change their dynamic. She misses attending in-person writing events where she could “feed off the energy of other people.”
Despite difficulties, Evans, Woods and Greer remain enthusiastic about the process. Last year, Greer encouraged her seventh-grade granddaughter to participate in a youth version of NaNoWriMo as a part of her homeschooling curriculum. By the end of the month, she reached 18,000 words — more than twice her original goal — with a story about a T. Rex who is best friends with a hedgehog. This year, she is working on the sequel.
Woods said she is going to encourage every writer she knows to try in the future. Evans said that NaNoWriMo helps people who have trouble getting themselves to write. This may be why this exercise proves to be helpful to so many writers, and why it may be a worthwhile attempt even if one doesn’t succeed in reaching 50,000 words.
“Even if you don’t win, you win,” Evans said. “Those are words that didn’t exist at the beginning of the month, and probably wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t tried.”