No-sleep November: Student sacrifices free time, rest for annual novel-writing competition

Alanis King

“I think it’s just amazing how you can create something when there was previously nothing, and you can make people feel things that they wouldn’t otherwise feel through written word.”

That is the reasoning behind junior Madison Hines’ passion for writing novels, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual competition for novelists of all skill levels, allows her to pursue that passion in a way like never before. Madison has been competing in NaNoWriMo for several years and has met a significant amount of success in doing so.

“I discovered [the competition] because I was looking for writing contests to do to win money or scholarships,” Madison said. “I stumbled across NaNoWriMo about three years ago, and I’ve won three times so far.”

NaNoWriMo, which requires writers to compose an average of 1,667 words per day and a minimum of 50,000 total words during the month of November, rewards each writer with five printed copies of their novel’s manuscript so long as the minimum word count is reached within the course of the month. Madison said that it’s difficult to prioritize and balance time during the month, but she makes time to write in regardless of her schedule order to not fall behind in word count.

“I write throughout the day a lot, so if I think of something I’ll jot it down in a notebook,” Madison said. “Even if I only write 100 words, that’s 100 words I didn’t have [before].”

Making time to write also requires Madison to have to make other sacrifices such as free time in order to keep on track with her novel’s word count, and Madison’s friend, junior Mary Kate Walker, said that though NaNoWriMo is frustrating for Madison, she gets excited for the competition every year.

“[Madison] always talks about how she can’t do this or she can’t do that because she’s at home trying to meet her word quota for the day,” Walker said.

During her three years of participating in the competition, Madison has explored three very different topics with this year’s novel focusing around eating disorders.

“One year I wrote about time travel, last year I wrote about fates and how you can mold [your fate] to where you want it to be and how it doesn’t have to be set in stone, and the first year that I won, I wrote sort of a murder/abortion-type deal,” Madison said.

A huge benefit of NaNoWriMo is the layout of the competition, as it opens new doors for authors and requires them to take a new approach when writing novels.

“The main focus of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality, which sounds weird, but it lets you write in a way that you haven’t before,” Madison said. “You turn off that internal editor inside of you and you just let it flow; you just let the creativity come out.”

The format of NaNoWriMo not only helps Madison to express her creativity without limits, but also allows her to get past mental stumbling blocks that authors typically experience while writing.

“[When I write] normally, I can’t seem to get past that ‘you’re not doing it well enough, it’s not going to work, nobody’s ever going to want to read it’ [mindset],” Madison said. “But with NaNoWriMo, there are thousands of other people going through the same thing that I am, and [I’ve learned that] it’s easier to edit when there’s actually something on the page than it is to edit a blank page.”

Madison’s current writing endeavors are building a basis for her future, and she said that writing is certainly something she’s interested in pursuing for the rest of her life.

“I’ve been looking at lots of different colleges and universities that have a major in creative writing,” Madison said. “Even though you can’t necessarily use [a creative-writing degree] in a ‘real-life’ job, you can get jobs with agents and publishers and editors with a writing degree like that.”

NaNoWriMo takes a significant amount of time and makes for a stressful month for all participants, and while Madison aspires to one day have her name printed across posters in windows of bookstores, presumably the most important question is: how does one balance school, homework, extracurriculars, and writing a full novel in the course of one month?

“I get zero sleep,” Madison said.