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50,000 words? Sounds easy

Bethany Beckman has a simple goal: write a full-length work of fiction during the month of November.

Beckman, a freshman double-majoring in chemistry and creative writing, is one of over 200,000 people around the country National Novel Writing Month, affectionately termed “NaNoWriMo,” the most masochistically rewarding literary event of the year.

Participants must write a full work of fiction, 50,000 words or over, between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. That’s all there is to it. Once completed, writers can submit their transcripts to the NaNoWriMo website, and if it surpasses 50,000 words, then the author has won. Prizes include a badge and certificate of completion, a professional printing of your finished product and, most importantly (really, ask any winner), the completion itself.

NaNoWriMo is not a competition per se. Writers do not compete against each other for “Best Novel” or “Quickest-Written Novel” awards, as the official NaNoWriMo website states. There are many winners every year, basking in the glow of a real achievement.

It began in the San Francisco Bay area in July 1999, long before the heyday of the Internet, with a scant 21 wordsmiths taking a stab at writing a novel in a month. Early writers notably had trouble simply finding an actual medium on which to write their novels. These were the days before the advent of laptops, when portable computers more closely resembled small refrigerators than the miracles of modern technology we now take for granted. This group of friends, fresh off of a creatively fruitful summer and high on ambition, would always be found rooted to café tables, sharing advice, asking opinions and totally rewriting the arduous novel-writing experience, together.

In the years since, barely over a decade, that group of 21 friends has exploded into an enormous 256,618 participants in 2011, 36,843 of which met the goal of 50,000 words. As of 4:30 p.m., Nov. 15, when this article is being written, hopeful scribes have already penned 1,664,069,172 words. That is already over 600,000,000 more words than were written over the course of an entire month on the first run.

For those of us who have never written 50,000 words over 30 days, which I suppose is a rather high number, it is hard to imagine taking on such a task. How could anyone pledge to try and write an entire novel over the course of a month, with the intention of actually doing it? Who could actually succeed?

Seckman is already one of those victors. At 18 years old, she is on her third year of novel-writing, having won in 2011 after understandably falling short on her first attempt.

“It is INSANE, but in a strangely good way,” Seckman said. “You’re juggling five million things on top of writing … and it’s ridiculously hard to do, but you enjoy yourself despite everything.”

Further elevating the already lofty goal, she has to write at least 1,600 words a day in order to meet her goal and still have time to polish her work to its potential. Despite her schoolwork and other on-campus activity, she is on track.

“This year’s attempt is going pretty well. I’ve been ahead most of the time, something that’s never happened to be before,” Seckman said. “The writing for the past couple of days has been a little subpar, but that will edit out later.”

Everyone who participates in National Novel Writing Month learns a lot in the process. They take on a huge task and feel “an incredible sense of accomplishment” upon its completion. Ambitious young authors learn how to accept the failure of missed goals, shoddy writing and writer’s block. Everyone goes in expecting the pain and the misfires, but what people do not expect is the fun. They do not expect to draw any enjoyment from this tooth-pulling, but they do, every time. Because more than anything, NaNoWriMo is about creativity and self-discovery. What could be better than that?

When asked if she plans on taking on the challenge for a fourth year, Seckman only has one thing to say:

“Oh yes. I plan on doing Nano from here until the end of time.”