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December 5, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The atmosphere is genial, the coffee warm and inviting. Amidst the tip-tapping of keyboards, a friendly chatter fills Coffee Zone. “Does anyone know anything about weapons?” one participant says. No, she is not thinking about buying a gun. It’s for a scene in the novel she is working on.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a gargantuan challenge that amateur authors across America take on each November. The idea is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. That is about 1,667 words every day. Art Smith and Noah Medling organized meetings in the local chapter, which convenes throughout the month of November to keep participants on track.
By the end of the event, there were 309,896 participants nationally including 178 Columbians. Forty-one of these Columbians completed the 50,000 words for a total of 3,511,903 words.
To deal with the stress, Vox has created memes to keep the writers laughing.
This month the meetups consisted of write-ins at Coffee Zone, Tate Hall and creative writing workshops. Smith and Medling organized these events to keep writers encouraged. Most meetings have about 20 attendants. It’s a come-and-go-as-you-please event with participants popping in when it suits their schedules. Other events throughout the month include marathon days, where participants pledge to write 6,000 words in one sitting, and peer review workshops.
Writing 1,666 words a day requires some major discipline. Whether it’s coffee, podcasts or sheer force of will, these writers need a little something to push them along.
“My red notebook is my life-support system,” says Becky Wilson, who is working on her dystopian young adult novel. “I always have that with me to jot down ideas.”
“Panicking about the word count definitely helps,” says Abraham Ott, a computer programmer, who is working on a science fiction story. “I don’t plan it as much as I should.”
For some people like Rachel Ruhlen, the meetups are a fun way to socialize while getting a story out of it — of the fictional kind that is.
Municipal liaisons Smith and Medling keep the writers on their toes by organizing these meetups. “The first year I did NaNoWriMo, it was with a bunch of college students,” Medling says. “After they all graduated I decided to stay and take leadership. This is my ninth year as the municipal liaison, and I have seen the group growing up together.”
Medling believes in the “let them be” philosophy of keeping the writers on track. “They pretty much do as they please,” he says. Talking to anyone who would listen and posting flyers were the writer’s ticket in getting people interested.
Many novels written during NaNoWriMo have been published and made a buzz in literary circles. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is a dystopian young adult novel that will be made into a film.
Chloie Piveral, a freelance fiction editor of If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus, spent time at previous Columbia meetups. The book also made it to the Times’ best-seller list. John Haye is an author whose published horror story, set in Japan, was written during a NaNoWriMo.
You never know, maybe the next big thing is being written in that coffee shop downtown.