UC Berkeley students brave National Novel Writing Month

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It’s officially December, which means National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has come to an end. Don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? Every November, nonprofit organization NaNoWriMo poses a challenge to “anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel“: Participants must write a 50,000-word book. If that’s not daunting enough, participants have only the month of November to finish the novel. Although the words don’t have to be good, they have to be on the page, and participants must check in online to verify their word count. Sound crazy? We at the Clog agree with you, but some of your fellow UC Berkeley students beg to differ. We were curious to see how these UC Berkeley students fared during the challenge, so we interviewed two NaNoWriMo daredevils and one former NaNoWriMo intern to both verify their sanity and find out when they had time to watch Netflix.

Arya Georgina

Arya has done NaNoWriMo for three years. This year will be her fourth. She hasn’t ever finished the challenge — yet.

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Arya Georgina/Courtesy

Daily Clog: What is your book this time about?

Arya Georgina: This time, I’m writing about a girl who is from our world, but she gets transported into this other netherworld where all the fairies and creatures and mythical creatures that we have heard about in folklore live. Then, she meets this other girl there, and the two girls go in search of the one girl’s mother.

DC: Once you finish, do you have any plans for your book?

AG: With some of my other ones, I haven’t thought to do anything, but I really want to get this one published. I want to become a published author, so this is sort of the book that I really want to be published. It’s my prized possession — my baby.

DC: How did you balance NaNoWriMo with schoolwork?

AG: It was really hard. I had to give myself an hour or two of writing every day, so that meant that I had to finish my homework right away. I kind of slept a little bit less. … I would wake up earlier in the morning and start doing my Old English homework, and then I would go to class, and then I’d come to class and go back and do a little more homework, go to archery practice and then come back and do writing. I usually would do an hour or so of writing before I go to bed. It’s a challenge, balancing everything, but I’ve had years of practice of not having a lot of time.

DC: Are you glad you’re doing it, and what did you learn from NaNoWriMo-ing?

AG: I’m definitely glad that I do it. … I always learn something new when I’m just writing in general. With NaNo, you meet more people, in a way. … It always feels like there’s a sense of community, even if it’s just people online that I’m reading their blog posts about doing NaNo, and we’re all stressing out together. I always relearn how to cope with doing a lot of writing. This year was nice, because it reminded me that I do love writing, since I hadn’t written pretty much since last NaNo. It reminded me why I love being an English major, since I’ve definitely had some doubts previous to this month.

DC: Show us the first sentences of all of your NaNoWriMo attempts.

AG: 2014: “There is a place, far beyond your wildest dreams and imaginations.” –”The Beginning”; 2013: “The first thing you have to understand about me is that I was never going to be what my parents wanted.” –”Cassandra”; 2012: “I leaned back in my chair, trying very unsuccessfully to cover a yawn.” –”Alexie’s Adventures”; 2011: “No one told me it was going to be this hard.” –”Cutting Edges”

Steven Elias Genise

Steven is both a former NaNoWriMo intern and a participant. Although he has done NaNoWriMo almost every year since his sophomore year of high school, he’s only finished once.

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Steven Elias Genise/Courtesy

Daily Clog: What was your internship about?

Steven Elias Genise: I ended up getting NaNoWriMo’s nonprofit development internship. … I did a lot of donation soliciting, planning for a big sort of year-end event called the Night of Writing Dangerously, where all their major donors go … also a lot of major development work on their website, with HTML and content-management sites — and then, of course, various odds and ends that interns have to do.

DC: What was your favorite part of your internship?

SEG: The people were fantastic. It’s a very small operation. There’s maybe seven employees, and there were three interns, and all the interns got to know each other, all of the staff members knew each other, and all the former interns would pop in every now and then. … It felt more like a group of friends that were doing something fun rather than a group of coworkers that happened to like each other.

DC: What do the NaNoWriMo employees do when it’s not November?

SEG: In the off-season, they do a lot of things, like maintenance to their websites, planning for the year, as well as a number of smaller programs, like Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a smaller version that happens twice in the summer and where participants can set their own goals. In fact, it was my experience that the vast majority of the workload happened in the months leading up to November as opposed to the month itself.

DC: Have you ever done NaNoWriMo with anyone else?

SEG: Last year when I was interning, the whole staff did it. We would go in the mornings before the actual office opened, and everyone would sit down and start their novels. … Interestingly enough, I think the only person on staff who finished it that year was one of the interns. … I also attended The Night of Writing Dangerously as well. It’s this big banquet, and everyone dresses up for it, but then at the same time, everyone sits in the banquet hall with their laptops and writes for six hours.

DC: How did you fit NaNoWriMo in with schoolwork?

SEG: I would do it a lot in the mornings. I’m on the lightweight rowing team, and we get back from practice at 8:00 in the morning, and most of my classes don’t start until 10:00. … During November, when usually that time would be filled in with a nap or something, I would sit down and write.

DC: Have any cool NaNoWriMo stories?

SEG: You have to validate your word count online at 11:59 on Nov. 30. The time I completed it, I was at the airport, and my flight left at 12:01 … and I had to finish because it was Nov. 30. So I sat down and wrote my last 500 words and then validated it at 11:59, two minutes before the gate of my flight closed. So I almost missed a flight to finish NaNo — but I did it.

Kelvin Mak

This is Kelvin’s first time doing NaNoWriMo.

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Kelvin Mak/Courtesy

Daily Clog: How did you decide to do NaNoWriMo?

Kelvin Mak: I already had an idea in mind, and I just needed to start. I told myself that if I didn’t do it, I would never be able to know whether I could succeed. If I didn’t do it, failure was guaranteed. I needed to at least put up a fight, and thankfully I did. … It’s one of the best decisions I made in my life, and highly encourage anybody who has even an inkling of love for writing to just go for it.

DC: What is your book about?

KM: The theme of my book is that if you doubt yourself when faced with the possibility of your aspirations becoming reality, that possibility might disappear. There are opportunities that can only be decided on once, and a lot of people choose to miss them because they’re afraid of whatever it is they fear, whether it’s change, failure or even success. Without giving too much away, it’s like if you smashed a Murakami novel and all of its loneliness and solitude into Spirited Away and the fantastic setting.

DC: Describe your writing process.

KM: It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do at night. Usually I sit somewhere that doesn’t have any immediate distractions like my computer or phone, often ending up on the bed or floor. I write in a legal pad because it somehow just takes the pressure off of writing. It’s less serious, giving me more breathing room to explore ideas I otherwise wouldn’t consider. … After about two or three hours, I take a break and read, play video games or take a walk, and don’t continue until later in the night.

DC: Do you find yourself writing more because of NaNoWriMo?

KM: Yes, strangely enough. With all the pages filled with ink, you’d think I’d be sick of it, but there’s something fun about just losing yourself for a couple of hours and being completely absorbed in work, especially for work that you actually want to do.

DC: What did you learn, if anything, from NaNoWriMo-ing?

KM: What I learned was that it’s really hard to be committed to something when I don’t see immediate results, especially since we live in an age of instant gratification. It feels rewarding to work on something long-term because it really is a labor of love, and nobody else could have made it but you. Your novel is literally a physical manifestation of you, or at least some parts of you. I think that’s pretty great and amazing. … It’s a lot more difficult to manage yourself when you have to become your own “teacher,” so to speak. Self-discipline is something I’m definitely not used to, but luckily, I’m getting better at it … kind of.

Image Sources: mpclemens

Contact Emma Schiffer at [email protected].