50,000 in 30: Mason Writers Stretch during Novel-Writing Month

Posted: December 1, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

It began with 21 people in the month of July seven years ago, in Northern California.

Now it is worldwide during the month of November, and about 15,000 people are expected to be part of it this year.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) ended at midnight Nov. 30, and George Mason had about 20 students, alumni and instructors who hoped to write about 50,000 words (equal to nearly 175 pages) by the Thursday night deadline. As of Wednesday morning, according to the NaNoWriMo web site, about 5,700 people had reached the 50,000-word goal.

This is the second straight year that sophomore Lara Ek, an English major with a minor in Chinese, has taken part in National Novel Writing Month.

Novel writers
Mason writers, from left, Vincy Conley, Laura Scott and Lara Ek, are participating in Novel Writing Month.
Photo courtesy Lara Ek

Last year Ek, a 2005 graduate of James Madison High in Vienna, Va., was mostly on her own as she completed a novel during the month of November. This year she wanted more support from the Mason community, and English academic advisor Laura Scott agreed to be a liaison for those writers connected to the university.

“It makes me happy to know other people are trying this and going through the misery,” says Ek, half seriously. As of Tuesday morning, Ek, who is taking 15 credit hours this semester, was 4,771 words shy of the 50,000-word target.

“I haven’t heard of any students who are sacrificing their course load for this,” says Scott, who is working on a murder mystery this month for the project.

Scott says she thought the group would share ideas on what to write. But she says the Mason writers want moral support more than anything. “This group wants cheerleading. They wanted more of a group feel,” says Scott.

Several writers met on the Fairfax Campus Oct. 31, hours before the annual project began. Some writers have met once or twice a week during the month, and Scott says she plans to have a “decompression party” in December.

Chris Baty, a freelance writer, began NaNoWriMo in San Francisco in 1999. It became a nonprofit charity in late September, just days before registration began for the 2006 event. NaNoWriMo has been featured on National Public Radio, the CBS Evening News, BBC in Scotland, the Washington Post and dozens of other newspapers.

NaNoWriMo sells T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items, and in 2004 it donated 50 percent of its net profits (about $7,000) to help establish and supply children’s libraries in three Cambodian villages.

Baty, on the NaNoWriMo web site, encourages participants to focus on volume, and not to spend time re-writing or even re-reading what has been written. The goal is clear: to write 50,000 words. Many participants write a novel, but short stories also count toward the word total.

“This is all about long-distance running. It is about quantity, not quality,” says Scott. She adds that many of the Mason students taking part this year in NaNoWriMo “carry their laptops around and find any snippet of time to write.”

Ek’s 2005 novel is tentatively titled “Olinscarr,” and is about a female student who walks though the floor of her college bookstore onto a river of frozen dust. “Last year I got into the habit of starting in the evening and wrote until I filled the quota” of about 1,666 words per day, says Ek. This year she is working on several shorter stories, some of which pertain to “Olinscarr.”

Another Mason student trying to be a winner this year is Whitney Rhodes, a junior communication major. As of Wednesday afternoon, she was up to 46,163 words. This is her third year of participating, and she was a winner (those who completed the 50,000-word challenge) in 2004 and 2005. She planned to reach this year’s goal by midnight Thursday.

Mason faculty members trying to finish a novel this month included Danielle Deulen, graduate programs coordinator, English, and Art Taylor, term assistant professor, English.

Scott, who has also been in touch with Mason alumni trying to reach the 50,000-word goal, became a liaison for the Mason group in late October, just days before the countdown began for this year’s month of writing.

“We would like to do more planning and provide more input for students next year, based on students’ needs,” she says.

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