It was a novel idea: a class based on the annual challenge of NaNoWriMo — or as it’s known in full, National Novel Writing Month. The annual event has inspired countless creatives to put their pen to paper (or in this case, fingers to the keyboard) to churn out 50,000 words in November.
Amelia-Marie Altstadt, a coordinator with the University Honors Program, led the course as a part of the program’s 201H experiential learning seminars.
“When I first got hired at the University Honors Program, they were having these 201Hs and I said, ‘Oh, well, I have an idea for one,’” Altstadt said. “And they were just like, ‘OK, teach it.’”
Altstadt was familiar with NaNoWriMo and had even participated in the competition during years past.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times over the past decade, but I definitely have done it more than a few times,” they said. “And I’ve done it with other friends. One of my friends actually spoke in the class, and she has won NaNoWriMo multiple times.”
To win NaNoWriMo, one must meet the 50,000-word marker on their story. That’s about 100 single-spaced pages and requires the writer to produce nearly 1,700 words per day. Altstadt’s course started in early October and walked students through a variety of writing exercises, workshops and Q&As with the objective of preparing them for the NaNoWriMo challenge in November.
Writing a novel is a full-time job on its own. But in addition to college coursework, it’s a true test of strength. Altstadt isn’t requiring the students to reach the 50,000-word mark — though that hasn’t stopped a few of the students from plowing through pages.
In the Writing Center in early November, students in Altstadt’s class placed sticky notes on a board for every thousand words they had written. As the numbers grew higher and higher and reached into the hundreds of thousands, students shared their story visions. Some found inspiration when they partook in writing sprints, while others sought their creative sparks via creating detailed maps and story outlines for their new worlds.
“I hope that the students have learned that they can do anything they put their minds to,” Altstadt said. “And the idea of perseverance. I hope they have fun with it, because it’s something unique and interesting. And they’ve honestly done way better than me. The first time I tried to do NaNo, I started and stopped within a week, less than 2,000 words. And many of my students have upwards of 10,000 words.”
Annie Lammes is one of those students. By mid-November, Lammes had reached the 50,000-word mark on her novel. As a sophomore meteorology major, she used her NaNoWriMo challenge to decompress from her math and science homework.
“It’s nice because one gives me a break from the others,” she said. “If I’m tired of calc, then it’s very nice to switch over to this for a little bit.”
Being a STEM major, Lammes doesn’t get many opportunities to write on a day-to-day basis. And with stories she’s been sitting on for years, the NaNoWriMo course was a welcome opportunity to finally pursue them.
“It’s been nice having this experience through Honors,” she said. “Yes, it’s a requirement, but it’s two hours a week where I get to go do something I want to do.”