Special thanks to Andy Ratner for his help on this, and special thanks to him for allowing me to re-print it on my blog.
For you, today’s Election Day.
For Gavin St. Ours, a Web designer and video producer who lives in the city’s Mount Vernon, and tens of thousands like him across the country, it’s also Day 4 of NaNoWriMo.
And possibly NaPoPoMo.
And probably some other ‘Mo we’re unaware of.
It sounds like gibberish, but they’re abbreviations for National Novel Writing Month. And National Podcast Posting Month. And National Blog Posting Month. And National Knit a Sweater Month.
They all pose the same challenge to anyone who’s interested: Do the activity every day in November: Complete a novel. Make a daily podcast. Blog every day. Or knit a sweater.
And at the end of the month, you may have something impressive to show for your efforts. You’ll probably enhance your skills in whatever venture you choose. You might find a peaceful distraction after a month of unnerving economic and political headlines. And you might learn something about yourself in the process, about your ability to conquer a goal you didn’t think possible.
The novel-writing contest – maybe more a conquest, with no prize involved – began in 1999. A small group of San Franciscans were looking to blow off some steam just as the Internet companies where some of them hoped to get rich in Silicon Valley began to implode. By the second year, they added a Web site and the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel began to swell. Spread the next year by something new on the scene – word-of-blog – it mushroomed even more. The crush of budding novelists overloaded the computer server for nanowrimo.org on the eve of the event Friday.
Last year, more than 100,000 people around the world signed up, including students at more than 360 elementary and secondary schools. More than 15,300 completed their novels. Several went on to be published, including Flying Changes by Sarah Gruen, which became a New York Times best-seller.
But quantity, not quality, is the stated goal; merely attempting to write six pages a day is a haul. The Web site counts your words in the end, although no one has to read what you’ve written. The organizers say novel-writing is typically a “one day” event, as in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” The contest aims to kick-start the dream for many.
St. Ours, 28, has attempted the novel-writing challenge six times and achieved the goal twice. This month, he plans to try both the novel-writing and the podcasting. He figures he’ll have to carve out about two hours a day to write 1,600 words and produce a five-minute podcast to reach the summit of his creative Everest.
Some years, he plans out what he wants to write. In others, the characters just sort of take over, “sleeping with each other, killing each other” and other things he hadn’t imagined, possibly due to “sleep depravation or being over-caffeinated.”
“One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone doing National Novel Writing Month is a Starbucks gift card,” he said. With the help of networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, the effort has grown into a social phenomenon, with groups meeting for novel-crafting sessions at coffee shops and cafes.
“I was trying to explain it to a friend who is a writer and who didn’t understand why a sane person would do this,” he said. But through groups online, he’s found kindred souls. Some of the local Twitter users met at a “tweet up” at Holy Frijoles in Hampden a few weeks ago, and he just returned from “podcamp,” a podcasters’ workshop in Montreal.
“You’re in a room full of people who just get what this thing is,” said St. Ours, who studied broadcast journalism and English at Salisbury University. “All the technology sort of brings people out of their homes, these people who have these common interests who otherwise might be sequestered at home.
“Really busy people actually seem to have a lot of luck in the novel-writing month, they’re better at scheduling their time. I know people who haven’t had jobs who haven’t been able to finish. Being too busy isn’t any excuse. People start going back and forth online, ‘You think you’re busy, I’m raising three kids and have a job …'”
Apparently not lacking for energy himself, St. Ours already produces Charm City Podcast (charmcitypodcast.com). It’s entertaining, free form and a bit goofy, reminiscent of the “Wayne’s World” skit Dana Carvey and Mike Myers made so popular.
For NaPoPoMo – National Podcast Post Month – he plans to do two others: One, putitinyourears.com, will be done with a New York friend, Rob Blatt, and will document a month’s worth of manic creative output (“Bite-sized stupid,” he calls it); the other is the.gavinshow.com, in which he’ll describe his novel-writing experience – a case of podcast imitating life imitating art.
The novel-writing, blogging and podcasting quests are somewhat the digital-era equivalent of seeing how many high-schoolers could stuff themselves into a phone booth 50 years ago. But the month-long exercises point up something often overlooked about computing and telecommunications: For all the hand-wringing over the gobs of time that young people spend on the Web, cell phones and the like, young people have never before spent so much creative effort communicating through words and pictures.
Melinda Wilson, 32, plans to blog every day this month. Last year, she completed NaBloPoMo as well as organizing a group of more than a dozen other Maryland bloggers who took part.
Like millions of other Web journals, her blog – cripkitty.wordpress.com – is very personal, a work primarily of introspection not intended for a huge audience. It attracts maybe a dozen or two dozen viewers a day, although that number tripled after NaBloPoMo last year. Because she was blogging more often, she was touching on a wider range of topics and getting linked to other blogs more often.
“You give up TV and walk away from a little bit of laziness to do something you inevitably enjoy,” Wilson, a forensic toxicology graduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said about this month’s blog contest.
“You end up writing about the everyday … about my nephews, what happened at work today. You get a real look into people’s lives, and that to people is very intriguing.”
St. Ours said he does not plan to take part in the blogging, though.
“There’s crazy,” he said, “and then there’s craa-zy.”