Students participating in NaNoWrimo spend time writing to achieve their goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.


Art by Olivia Lusala

A question that English teachers hear around this time of year is: What is NaNoWriMo?  For many, NaNoWriMo is one of those phrases often heard in classrooms and over the announcements, but never clearly explained. Fortunately, City High English teacher and NaNoWriMo-expert Ali Borger-Germann can clear up the mystery behind the annual event once and for all.

“NaNoWriMo is a national movement and organization that encourages people to write the novel of their dreams, but to do it in 30 days,” Borger-Germann said. “Essentially, it is a tool to help writers get that first draft down on paper.”

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month (that’s NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). NaNoWriMo takes place during the month of November, and is run through a website of the same name. It encourages writers to begin a draft of an original piece of writing with the goal reaching 50,000 words or more by the end of the month. Writers who reach the 50,000 word goal are given a certificate and declared “winners.” The project was created in 1999 by writer Chris Baty, who wanted to encourage aspiring authors to start working on novels that they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to begin.

Because the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to encourage authors to make as much progress as possible, the novels are not graded for content. Instead, any novel that reaches the word count is considered a “winner.” There is no prize for winning, other than pride in a job well done and a completed first draft to be improved upon. Stories don’t even have to be finished to be considered winners. This flexibility is meant to allow writers to work on a diverse range of projects without much stress.

Theo Prineas ‘18 is one of many Little Hawks who have written NaNoWriMo novels this year. Prineas ‘18 reached the 50,000 word goal as a sophomore, and is excited about the novel he is currently working on. It is a magical-realism story set in  Victorian England about girl who suffers from tuberculosis. His goal is for the reader to question whether the various supernatural events she is experiencing is real or a symptom of her disease.

“The most fun part of writing this story definitely is playing with the ‘is this real or is this magic’ element of it,” Prineas ‘18 said. “It’s really challenging because you can’t be heavy handed with it at all. It’s a lot of fun.”  

Prineas ‘18 was inspired by the author Gabriel García Márquez, a Nobel Prize winner best known for books such as “A Thousand Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.” He is considered one of the greatest writers of the magical realism genre.

“I was going for something by [García Márquez]… because he’s so big in magical realism. I also just really like the Victorian era, and I wanted to write in that era because I’ve never done it before.”

Prineas ‘18 said that taking advantage of the Victorian setting of his story was one of the most rewarding parts of writing his NaNoWriMo story this year.

“It’s really fun to research how people lived in those days and the old technology that they used,” Prineas ‘18 said. “I love retro technology, to the point that I own my own typewriter.”

Prineas ‘18 is the president of Writing Club at City High, an after school club that meets every Friday in Ali Borger-Germann’s room. It hopes to give students a space to write anything from novels to essay assignments.

“One thing I had trouble with before I started Writing Club was consistency,” he said. “I used to write 3,000 words in a single day, and then three weeks later I wouldn’t have touched it again. Writing Club brings you back every week to this one thing you’re working on.”

Mira Bohannan Kumar ‘20 is another Little Hawk who participated in NaNoWriMo this year. She is writing a dystopian novel, and hit the 50,000 word goal this year.

“I have to write every day,” Bohannan Kumar ‘20 said. “If I were to skip writing for even one day, I know I would just procrastinate for the next week and then never write again.”

Bohannan Kumar ‘20 said during November she used her calculator every day to figure out how many words she needed to write to stay on schedule. She said sometimes it can be hard to focus on one project for an entire month, which is where NaNoWriMo’s flexibility kicks in. When she can’t focus on her novel anymore, she shifts to other projects.

“The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that it doesn’t have to be one novel. I’ve written a little bit of a script and a lot of poetry. About 6,000 of my words aren’t a part of my main novel.”

Prineas can appreciate the work Bohannan Kumar put in this year. Having previously reached the 50,000 word goal, he understands the discipline it takes to get there.

“It’s a huge commitment,” he said. “Writing 50,000 words in a month is no easy task. It’s grueling. At first it’s fun, and you think ‘this is easy’, but then towards the end of the month you’re saying ‘Oh God, can I do this?’”

Still, he said, all of the work is worth it.

“The moment that you finish is glorious, because you know you have conquered your first novel.”