English Department challenges students to write a novel

NaNoWriMo is a nation-wide event Mason's English Department participates in through Undergraduate English Society (photo by Amy Rose).
NaNoWriMo is a nation-wide event Mason's English Department participates in through Undergraduate English Society (photo by Amy Rose).

            Writing a novel is difficult. Writing one in a month sounds impossible, but that is exactly what some Mason students intend to do this November when they participate in National Novel Writing Month, or better known as NaNoWriMo.

This annual nonprofit event challenges participants to write 50,000 words in a single month and attracts thousands of aspiring writers from around the globe.

            The Department of English sponsors a chapter of the event at Mason’s Fairfax campus. It hosted a kickoff event on October 31 in the Robinson Hall English department conference room where students could interact with their peers and eat pizza while getting writing tips and outlining ideas for their novel. Throughout the month, the Undergraduate English Society holds write-ins in the JC Room 239A every Monday through Thursday at 7:00 PM. They also plan on throwing a party at the end of the month where anyone who completed the 50,000 words will receive a prize.

            Professor Debra Lattanzi-Shutika, who teaches folklore and serves as faculty advisor for the Undergraduate English Society, helped organize the Mason NaNoWriMo group when she heard many students were participating and realized there was a lot of interest in an official group.

            Because Mason does not offer a creative writing course specifically geared towards novel-writing, NaNoWriMo provides a rare opportunity for aspiring novelists to express themselves in a more structured environment. It also offers a chance for them to interact with their peers and refute the conception of writing as a strictly solitary activity.

            Even people who do not major in English or might not think of themselves as creative writers are encouraged to participate.

“Everyone has their own life experiences,” Lattanzi-Shutika says. “We all need to know how to tell stories.”

NaNoWriMo showcases the wide variety of stories that students have to tell. For instance, Kaitlyn Kinney, an English major, is working on a coming-of-age story with Native American folklore influences.

“It gives me an excuse to write, because too often, life gets in the way…It forces you outside of your mind, you don’t get caught up with writer’s block. You know you have set amount of time to get x amount of words done,” Kinney said.

Kinney participated in NaNoWriMo before and even finished the required 50,000 words once when she was in high school. Though she has the piece hidden away on a flash drive, she says she hopes to work on it more someday if she gets free time.

Another student, nonfiction and economics double-major Alyson Hudnall, wrote a historical romance for NaNoWriMo as a college freshman but did not manage to get the necessary word count. Although too many other commitments have kept her from participating this year, she found her past experiences to be rewarding.

Outside responsibilities, from academics or work to other clubs and organizations and the need to maintain a social life, make NaNoWriMo an even bigger challenge for students.

“I just kind of write whenever I have the chance, and I don’t have many chances,” Kinney said.

Kinney said she uses NaNoWriMo as motivation to write.

Many students have also found that NaNoWriMo helps improve their academic writing.

“It taught me to shut off the technical/grammar part of me, so the creative part of me could come out,” Hudnall said.

Lattanzi-Shutika thinks this is partly a result from NaNoWriMo forcing participants to write every day in order to reach the goal. Such consistency encourages students to be more disciplined and efficient when they write

 “It makes other writing feel easier,” Lattanzi-Shutika said..

Furthermore, the sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching the 50,000 word goal can be as much of a reward as students need.

“I honestly think everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least once, just for the experience,” Kinney says. “It’s something to be proud of. What other people take years to do, you did in a month, and it may be crappy, but that’s what revision is for.”

When it comes to giving advice to fellow participants or any students who are interested in attempting NaNo, Kinney says to go in with a general outline for the novel. Lattanzi-Shutika recommends joining other participating students and finding writing workshops where like-minded peers can give constructive criticism and encouragement when needed.

 “Aliens,” Hudnall said.  “If you run out ideas, if you have nothing else to say, make it about aliens.”

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