The baristas at Barnes & Noble on Sudley Road in Manassas keep the hot coffee coming. In a corner of the bookstore coffee shop, a pocket of sleep-deprived writers have pushed together tables for a final three-hour write-in, a communal sprint to the Nov. 30 deadline of National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo, as participants shorten it, is the world’s largest writing event and nonprofit literary crusade. More than 250,000 participants pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by Nov. 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.
Julie Ehrmantraut (“Jules”) is one of 650 regional volunteers in more than 60 countries who act as Municipal Liaisons for NaNoWriMo. “We have upwards of 3,000 writers participating from the Northern Virginia, about 500 active in the regional forum, and about 100 that I see over the course of month at write-ins,” says the 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from Montclair. She’s written nine novels since 2005, spanning several genres. Her current entry is science fiction.
Natalie Foley, a 28-year-old professional nanny, filed her novel early, so the Manassas resident crochets while lending support. “Typically I write romance,” she says. While Julie seeks a publisher for her novels, Natalie prefers to keep hers private. “I write for me,” she explains.
A 25-year-old programmer analyst, Manassas resident Michael Reichelt turned an idea from one of his video game scripts into a stand-alone novel. His premise, “truth resists simplicity,” takes readers on a generation ship ride through galaxies to another inhabited world. “I’ve done NaNo on my own before, but I never went to write-ins,” says Michael. “I’m more social this time around.” He plans to polish the novel and send it out for publication.
“Why do I do it? It’s a month of complete creative abandon,” says Layne Lewis, a 26-year-old Manassas native, who works at a title company and has been participating in NaNo since 2008. “You let all of your restraints go and just put something out there and it’s a way to actually do it, instead of saying you would like to do it.”
“So even if you lose, you win,” agrees Elizabeth Roberts, a 27-year-old administrative assistant from Centreville. “A co-worker of mine is doing it and even though he knows he’s not going to make goal, still, he has 30,000 words! He never would have had that jump start if it wasn’t for NaNo."
And then there’s me. I had to try it. So I logged into the website and started my novel Nov. 1. They were right – the creativity poured out on the page. I easily paced 2,000 words daily until Week 3. That’s when work deadlines and the holiday intervened. When I logged back in, I’d missed eight days. The write-in group saved me. I couldn’t let a bunch of Generation X and Millennials blow past me!
So today, Nov. 30, I uploaded 50,000 words for verification and hit the button. I finished my first novel.
Best news of all: Jules, Natalie, Layne and others meet year 'round at the Manassas Barnes & Noble. Grab a cup of coffee and join them, Mondays from 7 pm to close.
Want to check out a locally published NaNo novel? Katherine Gotthardt of Bristow published Approaching Felonias Park Nov. 30, 2011 through Aberdeen Bay. Gotthardt donates proceeds from the book to local food pantries.