Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In November, some students refrain from shaving for the month—others write novels.
The National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, takes place each November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000-word novel (about the length of The Great Gatsby), starting from the 1st of the month and finishing by midnight on the 30th.
Last year, there were 167,150 participants worldwide; 32,178 of them managed to complete 50,000 words. The goal is quantity, not quality; the founder describes himself as “setting a reassuringly low bar for budding novelists everywhere” with his “startlingly mediocre prose style and complete inability to write credible dialogue.”
Budding Swat novelists got together at Kohlberg Coffee Bar on Sunday night to launch the event here on campus. Will Hopkins ’11, who is participating for the first time this year, said that he knows about 6 Swatties who have decided to join the event.
“Of course it would be great if more people did it, and I recommend it to everyone, but I don’t think we’re floundering in obscurity or anything,” said Hopkins.
Ruben An ’13, who has participated in the past but does not plan to participate this year, expressed surprise that Swatties were willing to commit to writing a novel in the midst of the academic year.
“Are people actually doing this?” An said. “There are so many things to do here- trying to get enough sleep, doing work, maintaining what’s left of a social life- that I would think people would not have time. It isn’t practical.”
On the other hand, Hopkins takes a different view towards the extra workload of NaNoWriMo. Aside from his novel, Will is currently working on a two-semester thesis in Clinical Psychology and an English Literature senior capstone, amongst other commitments.
“Fun-writing each day is a great way to get warmed up and keeps me on top of all my projects,” Hopkins said. “It’s a challenge, but that’s the point.”
The rapid increase in the number of NaNoWriMo writers since the event’s inception in 1999 has been largely due, said Hopkins, to the organizers’ efforts to create a community that shares the emotional rollercoaster that all its members experience. This “odd mix of personal and collaborative experience” is what is really exciting to Hopkins, who attended the first write-in organized by the handful of Swatties participating this year. “It’s great to bounce ideas around. Sometimes that’s what you need to get past a roadblock,” he added.
Indeed, the taxing nature of the task is the size, rather than the inherent format of the novel. According to An, “Writing a novel is like building a monument yourself.” He noted that he prefers writing poetry, though it leaves him more emotionally exhausted.
“Writing is like shooting a bullet if we say that writing is a form of self-expression,” An said. “A novel maps out the trajectory of the bullet, whereas poetry is the blood splattered on the walls.”
Both An and Hopkins agreed that the reason they chose to write a novel, as opposed to other forms of literature or art, was primarily because of the structure of NaNoWriMo.
“When I had this structured program presented to me, I seized it,” said An.
Hopkins noted that he would love it if other forms of art had a similar event. “It would be cool to see more stuff like [NaNoWriMo] out there. I’d also love to do a 24 Hour Comic Book Day at Swat when I magically find 24 hours between the cushions of my futon,” Hopkins said.