The deadline is looming for "wrimos" — writers challenged to clock in a 50,000 word novel by November 30.
"We're the largest writing event in the world," says Grant Faulkner, executive director of the Berkeley-based non-profit NaNoWriMo — short for National Novel Writing Month. "People's to-do list revolves around food and shelter, but I would say that creativity is a necessity of life, so we need to do what we can to nurture more creators in the world."
He and his team of only eight people have signed up more than 300,000 writers this month. It's free, and works kind of like a game. For example, writer can win online badges for posting to a web forum, or adding a writing buddy. It's more about the shared experience, and less about winning.
"Writing doesn't have to be a solitary thing. With a community of others, you're more likely to achieve your creative goals, but the thing is people take this offline too. It's a huge writing community that spreads in so many different directions. And the result is that lifetime friendships are made, people get married, and everything imaginable."
The month isn't even over yet, but NaNoWriMo has already received more than 980,000 dollars in donations, with writers in Antarctica, Tanzania, Ukraine, Pakistan, Jerusalem, Brazil, Germany, and in regions all over the U.S. In Texas, some 10,000 writers are participating, including Rebecca Atman, a student at Tarrant County College Southeast Campus in Arlington.
"I want to be the new Grimm Brothers, except a girl," says Atman, who describes herself as bipolar. "I can do this. I did the [writing] goals each week. I can take my medicine each day. I can stay on a schedule. I can keep going, and it definitely makes me feel stronger, more alive."
Last November, she finished the NaNoWriMo challenge, and self-published online. "You are creating inspiration, not only for you, but for the rest of the world," says Atman, who's now writing short stories based on dark fairy tales. "I tell people I wrote a book, and they say, you did what? It blows them away, and honestly, it still blows me away."
Julie Murphy shares Atman's excitement. A novel she wrote during NaNoWriMo three Novembers ago is about to be published by Balzer & Bray, a division of Harper Collins. Called Side Effects May Vary, it's about a girl who is terminally ill and determined to get revenge on people who have hurt her — but then she goes into remission.
"I am forever grateful to NaNoWriMo for forcing me to write that book," says Murphy. "I really didn't know what I was doing at that time. I just wrote as if everything I had to say was gold. So much of my success, I can hopefully thank my ignorance for. Now I tell everyone that the more you learn about writing, the harder it becomes."
This week she took over the NaNoWriMo twitter handle from her librarian's chair in North Texas, acting as a writing coach to cheer on all writers trying to finish their novels by Saturday's deadline.
"I write everyday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.," she says. "Get yourself on a schedule. Make writing a habit. Writing isn't this thing that big authors do behind the curtain. It's something that is accessible to everyone."
Christian author Mary Hollingsworth agrees. She's written more than 100 books, and as managing director of Creative Enterprises Studio in Bedford, Texas, she now helps new authors — including NaNoWriMo participants.
"To be a successful writer, you have to be faithful to your own voice," she advises. "Work with something you are passionate about, something that you love, something that is important to say, and your book will find an audience."
But wrimos, if you can't find the words to finish that novel, Hollingsworth suggests, maybe it's the wrong subject?
"Write that subject that you cannot not write about, that runs around in your head, that drives you crazy until you get it out on paper."