For many teenagers around Western New York, November can be a month to rake leaves, begin holiday shopping or sit by the window, your nose pressed up against the glass, waiting for the first snowfall. But for a few diligent teens, November is associated with tall, steaming cups of coffee, sweaty fingers and throbbing hand cramps. Yes, November is National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it is referred to by participants, is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one month (November). To stay on pace, participants must write at least 1,667 words a day to stay on track. So why would somebody subject themselves to that kind of monthlong torture?
"The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity," says Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and executive director.
Baty founded the challenge 13 years ago. Now, NaNoWriMo is run by the Office of Letters and Light, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, which Baty also leads. More than 250,000 aspiring authors participated this year. The Office of Letters and Light also runs Script Frenzy, where competitors try to write a 100-page script in one month.
Megan Morris, a sophomore at Williamsville South High School, is the author of a NaNo-novel with the tentative title, "Where Do the Bodies Go?" She juggles NaNoWriMo and an AP course during November, and when she's not writing, she likes listening to music and playing the cello.
"This is my second NaNo, but my first time winning," Megan says. "You have to make your novel a priority. You have to really commit yourself to it. You have to set aside the time, and give some things up. But if you really care about it, it's not as hard as it seems."
"Don't ever leave your novel alone for a day," says Emily Shelton, also a sophomore at Williamsville South, and the author of "Chasing Lady Luck," a 50,107-word novel about a group of adventurers that search for a lost heirloom.
Emily won the challenge last year, completing the 51,000-word novel, "Rise of the Snake Lord." Emily is also a Girl Scout and fences twice a week.
"Even if it's 20 words, write something, anything," she advises.
Jess, a senior at Hamburg High School who didn't want to use her last name, and the author of "Undying," agrees with both Megan and Emily. "You just have to write a little every day," she says. She also belongs to a writing club at her high school.
Another thing that makes NaNoWriMo special are the constant local social gatherings, including the Kickoff Party, the Half-Way Party and the Thank Goodness It's Over Party. These events are set up by regional municipal liaisons. There are also write-ins, where NaNo novelists essentially converge on a coffee shop and type furiously on their laptops, attracting awe-filled stares from others.
Both Megan and Emily attended the Kickoff Party and the Thank Goodness It's Over Party. "It was a lot of fun," Megan says of the final party. "We played Apples to Apples, and told all of these fun stories. It was so great."
While there is no official prize to winning the challenge, winners feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.
So how did it feel to win?
"Relief. Lots of relief," says Emily. "It was exhausting, too. I took a nap about an hour later."
"It felt really good. I felt really accomplished," says Jess, whose novel is about a woman who accidentally travels back in time and becomes immortal. She estimates that she spent about 400 hours writing this year.
"It was like jumping-up-and-down crazy," says Megan of her win, which occurred on Nov. 17, or 13 days early. "After that, I went to sleep."
Sean Wright is a freshman at Clarence High School.