Rebecca J. Blain has a headache. It’s been two hours since she and Kim Droz-Nadeau arrived at the Eleanor London public library in CÃ´te-Saint-Luc for a National Novel Writing Month write-in. Behind two large wooden doors in the children’s section, they sit at one of six fold-out tables, sipping tea and waiting for others to arrive.
Droz-Nadeau is smiling excitedly, enjoying a small pile of Rockets candy she has placed in the middle of the table. She’s ready to build on the 42,000 words she’s written so far throughout November. It’s Friday, and the competition ends on Tuesday.
How to win at NaNoWriMo? Write a 50,000-word novel before the end of the month. It’s a lofty goal, but the competition’s website gives participants a lot of support, from forums to local write-ins, where writers gather to spur each other on.
Blain is one of the municipal liaisons in charge of organizing these writing sessions. Every Friday, six to 10 participants gather at the library to chat, enjoy a cup of tea, and write. There are two other weekly write-ins in Montreal, one in the West Island and one downtown. According to the website, there are 640 participants, or Wrimos, in the Montreal area. At press time, Wrimos from all over the world had collectively written 2,147,483,647 words.
Blain has already far overshot her goal for her “political-action adventure.” A former freelance non-fiction writer, she now specializes in fantasy and science fiction. With four days left to spare, she’s already reached 69,000 words; she hopes to hit 80,000 by the month’s end.
“Ironically, my goal was to hit 70,000 tonight,” she says. It’s obvious by her position as municipal liaison that Blain is an old hand; she’s been a Wrimo for a few years now. Even though she started her novel almost a week late, she was still the first person to hit the 50,000 word mark in the Montreal region this year.
According to fellow Montreal municipal liaison Mike Lorenson, many of the Wrimos are writers by trade. However, many participate just for fun. Blain’s friend Droz-Nadeau is a graphics designer. “She’s normal. Watch out, it might be contagious,” whispers Blain jokingly.
Attendance to the write-in is lower than usual tonight due to ice, bad weather and a hockey game. Just as the girls are about to give up hope, Droz-Nadeau spots someone on the other side of the double doors. Waving her arms, she exclaims (as loudly as one can in a library), “Bearded guy!”
The man in question is Hendrik Boom, a 62-year-old self-proclaimed housewife. He lives up to his nickname, sporting a flowing, graying beard and rounded spectacles. He speaks with the poised manner of an academic, explaining that his story explores what would happen if men tried to create God. “I have a goal of writing something I will be happy with afterwards,” he says.
Boom has been participating in NaNoWriMo for a long time, and it is his third year as municipal liaison. He compares writing 50,000 words in one month to the ancient Greek orator Demosthenes putting rocks in his mouth to improve his speech. The analogy is fitting, as the goal of NaNoWriMo is not to end up with a publishable end product, but to allow writing practice. “They say you have to write about a million words before you can publish,” he explains.
Blain is open about the eccentricity of some of the participants. “To participate, you need a certain detachment from reality,” she states. She gives as an example the Night of Writing Dangerously, an event held for NaNoWriMo in the United States, where “a bunch of crazy people stay up all night writing.”
When 8 p.m. hits, it’s word war time. Blain sets her computer timer for one hour. The participants have the hour to write as many words as they can. Spelling and punctuation don’t matter, emphasizes Blain; it’s only the word count they need to worry about. As soon as the timer goes off, the room goes quiet. The only sounds to be heard are mad typing and Ke$ha coming through Droz-Nadeau’s earphones. An hour whizzes by before Blain is declared the winner, largely due to her fast typing.
By the end of the night, the participants are all one step closer to reaching their goal, as the deadline for their material quickly approaches.
To learn more about NaNoWrimo, visit www.nanowrimo.org.