This month all around Birmingham you can find pockets of over-caffienated crazy-eyed folks hacking away at their keyboards, bouncing from typewriter ding to typewriter ding and dueling with pens, all in pursuit of writing a novel. . . in a single month. NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month. It is a 14-year-old event that has spread around the world helping spur the lazy, the perfectionists and day dreamers to commit words to page.
The goal is a simple one: write 50,000 words in 30 days. That breaks down to a 1600+ word daily habit.
Needless to say someone local needs to be on deck to organize all of this creativity and keep people on track. Birmingham’s writer wrangler is Jared Millet, local librarian by day and NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison by night and weekends (and days, too). He was kind enough to take a break from his own word count to answer a few questions about all things NaNoWriMo.
Q: How long have you been involved with NaNoWriMo?
A: The first year I participated was 2007. I don’t remember how I found out about it, but it was a transformational experience. Before, I’d always been what I call “a prolific writer of first chapters.” In 2007 I exceeded the 50K Nano goal and went on to complete a 75,000 word novel in 40 days – my first ever novel-length draft. I was working at the Hoover Public Library at the time, and the experience inspired me to start the library’s Write Club that still meets once a month. Last year the previous Birmingham ML departed for grad school in the Great Frozen North, and she asked me if I’d be interested in stepping up to bat.
Q: Isn’t it insane to write an entire 50,000 word novel in one month? Is that really doable?
A: Insane? Not at all. Challenging? Yes. It breaks down to a daily objective of 1,667 words. The typical working writer will produce 1,000 – 2,000 words per day, with a few outliers doing way more or way less. Walter B. Gibson, principal author of The Shadow pulp novels, wrote 24 novel length stories a year – on a manual typewriter. He would laugh at our measly word counts and cast us out of Writers’ Valhalla.
Q: Why would someone want to write their book under these constraints? Any benefits?
A: The 50,000 word goal does several things. It provides deadline pressure, it makes you stretch yourself, and it forces you to bury your self-doubt. It also disabuses you of any illusions as to what writing is. Writing is work, it’s time consuming, it’s exhausting, and if you’re serious about writing you have to make it a priority in your life and not just squeeze it into the cracks.
Along with the deadline and the quota, however, participating in NaNoWriMo gives you a community and support structure to help see you through to the end. Writing is a lonely business, but not so much when 300,000 of your best friends are doing it with you.
Q: So you are Municipal Liaison for the area, what does that mean? How is it going?
A: Basically the Municipal Liaison is the party organizer and moderator of our regional forum on the NaNoWriMo website. I set up the annual Kick-Off (which was hosted once again by the lovely folks at the Patton Creek Barnes & Noble) and arrange for weekly get-togethers at various places around town. I’m also here to answer questions, promote National Novel Writing Month to the community at large, and to encourage participants to donate to the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organizers of all this madness.
As for how it goes, I’ve been amazed at the enthusiasm and turnout I’ve seen in the local Nano community. This year could possibly be our biggest yet.
Q: I see the Birmingham group is taking on the state of Delaware!? What is that about?
A: To be fair, it was they who declared Word War on us. (Well, they sent a polite email asking if we’d be interested in a friendly competition.) Delaware and Birmingham are about the same size in terms of Nano participants, and the Word War has been neck-and-neck so far. They’ve been ahead by a percentage point for most of the first week, but we did pull ahead for a little while yesterday. Southampton, England has also joined our little fray, and I’m sorry to report that the Brits are whipping us both.
Q: What’s on the calendar for the NaNoWriMo group this month?
A: On the weekends, we’re having Write-Ins (where writers gather en masse to chit-chat, encourage each other, then shut up and write) at Church Street Coffee, Little Professor Book Center, the Hoover Public Library, and Blackwell’s Pub. NaNo participants are invited to attend the Write Club meeting on Saturday the 17th to report on their progress, and there will be a wrap party on December 1st or 2nd at a location still to be determined.
Q: What are you working on? How’s it going? What’s your blog? Twitter?
A: This year I’m writing the final 50,000 words of a dark, bloody fantasy novel called The Ghost Cauldron that I began in 2010 and continued in 2011. I’m about a day behind in my overall word goal, but I’m catching up and I plan to put the holidays this month to good use.
On twitter I’m @JaredMillet and I blog, where you can find links to free stories, some anthologies I’ve been included in, and Summer Gothic, a collection of Southern ghost stories by Alabama authors that I edited earlier this year. Also, there’s a link to the most recent issue of Kaleidotrope, available free online, that includes my latest published story, The Unwinding House.
Q: Any parting words for your local NaNoWriMo’s or wannabe novelists?
A: Do it. Stick with it. Have fun. Have faith in yourself, and use this experience to learn about yourself as a writer. You’re not going to produce a novel that you can mail off right away to a publisher and get rich and famous, but you are going to discover that you have it in you to create art, and that enriches your own life and the lives of those around you.