In a bare-walled room in New Haven Free Public Library’s Mitchell Branch Saturday morning, four women typed frenetically at their computers, all with the same goal: to write 50,000 words before the end of November.
The women, along with roughly 400,000 other participants worldwide, were participating in a “write-in” as part of National Novel Writing Month. The initiative, which is in its 17th year, encourages writers to get their ideas down on paper by challenging them to complete a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30.
This weekend’s event, intended to support writers pursuing the challenge, was organized by librarians at the Mitchell Branch and Municipal Liaison for the Valley-Northeast region of Connecticut Betsy Hellman, a local volunteer who represents NaNoWriMo — the nonprofit that organizes National Novel Writing Month — in their region. Municipal liaisons also facilitate other support programs for NaNoWriMo participants, including pep talks and online forums.
Participants in Saturday’s write-in said NaNoWriMo creates a community for budding authors who would otherwise be treading the difficult path to publication alone.
“Writing can be a very isolated project where you are spending a lot of time by yourself going through the ups and downs of the process,” write-in participant Yvette Williams GRD ’03 said. “The type of support and the community that [NaNoWriMo] provides can be very encouraging.”
Williams, a part-time writer, discovered NaNoWriMo after seeing a flyer advertising the 50,000 word challenge in the NHFPL’s Ives Main Branch. Though Williams had previous experience writing poetry and academic pieces, she said she had never tried novel writing before because she was intimidated by the length of novels. NaNoWriMo gave her the confidence to start, she said.
“A lot of people here at the library ask how they can be published, so I definitely think there was a very strong interest group for this sort of event,” Mitchell branch librarian Soma Mitra said.
Saturday’s event was the second in a two-part event series hosted at the NHFPL. The first, held Nov. 7 and also co-organized by Williams, was a NaNoWriMo kickoff event which included writing workshops.
Williams said New Haven consistently sees a higher turnout in NaNoWriMo events than other cities in the Valley-Northwest area of Connecticut. She attributed this higher participation rate to the relative size of New Haven and the fact the Elm City has more accessible library branches.
Miranda Bailey-Russomano, a New Haven native currently attending college in Vermont, is tackling the challenge for the fourth time this year. She said in all the years she participated in National Novel Writing Month, she has never gone to a write-in because libraries are difficult to reach via public transport from her college.
“I have always wanted to go to [a write-in] and in New Haven they are pretty local for all residents,” Bailey-Russomano said. “Since I was home for Thanksgiving break, it was a good opportunity to get some writing done in the company of others.”
In 2013, NaNoWriMo drew 444,514 writers from over 200 countries and produced 2.5 billion words in total. This year, NaNoWriMo hopes to extend the initiative’s reach even further.
Charles Muir, literary director for Full Coverage Writers and municipal liaison for the Fairfield County region, said although he recognizes the positive impact of National Novel Writing Month, he hopes that the organization eventually “evolves that style and mindset into a year-round, month-to-month challenge.”
ESPN Associate Producer and Municipal Liaison for the Northern Connecticut region Katherine Seelig said she would like to see more groups included in the challenge.
“Rather than more events, I would love to see NaNoWriMo reaching more people,” Seelig said.
National Novel Writing Month shares its name with NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit supporting aspiring writers, which was established after the 2004 challenge.