Each November, tens of thousands of brave souls put their dream of becoming a novelist above all else and partake in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). To successfully complete the challenge, writers must produce 50,000 words in 30 days, or approximately six pages per day! Here at the Writers’ Program, instructor Ian Randall Wilson returns to helm the 2011 NaNoWriMo class. In 2010, he helped our students reach a remarkable 85% success rate compared to the 19% success rate for NaNoWriMo participants worldwide.

Former NaNoWriMo student and Wp’ instructor, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, said, “The instructor provided a very good framework for meeting deadlines. He also gave exercises to those who needed them and he gave little prizes to those who topped the word count. It was cool to look at the charts and see how your classmates were doing; this pushed me to work harder if I was lagging.”

Writers’ Program: Is NaNoWriMo the extreme sport version of novel writing?

Ian Randall Wilson: I was watching a little bit of the XGames earlier this summer and I saw kids come down this giant ramp and get launched about 30 feet into the air. One of them broke his leg. Another an arm. That won’t happen in this class. I’ve yet to have anyone break anything. A couple of incidents of alarmingly low blood sugar. But it is a pretty highly charged, highly compressed writing experience. You’re fitting in a year’s worth of work in 30 days. Then you have the whole rest of the year to revise your completed draft.

Wp’: Does the reality of the challenge sometimes differ from students’ expectations?

IRW: People have to abandon the idea that they’re going to do “great” writing. What matters is finishing, not what you write. In another Wp’ class, the critique and the revision can begin. But here, it’s about getting to the finish line of 50,000 words.

Wp’: What should students ideally come equipped with on the first night of class (mentally, physically, or otherwise)?

IRW: For the first two weeks, we’re in preparatory mode. I’m introducing some of the strategies and approaches that NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty has described in his book No Plot? No Problem! that will help in writing the draft and completing the challenge. But I’m also lowering expectations. This may be counterintuitive, but the lower your expectations for what you’re going to create, the more likely you are to finish. In the third class, the writing starts, and you need to come with a laptop and be prepared physically and mentally to type / write for nearly the entire three hours.

Wp’: What can a student gain from the NaNoWriMo course that distinguishes it from a regular writing workshop?

IRW: The Wp’ offers over 475 writing workshops annually but only one “writeshop,” that is, a class solely devoted to writing and nothing else. There is no sharing or critique of the work. There is only a cursory presentation of certain craft aspects. Some people want the critique and the craft lectures and I say to them — try one of the other classes. But here, you will finish a draft of a novel. There really is something to writing in a group with a cheerleader — i.e., me (even though I really don’t look very good in those cheerleader skirts) — helping, advising, encouraging, facilitating, demanding — whatever it takes — everyone to get to the goal line.

Wp’: What do you think students take away from this process that relates to their writing in general?

IRW: Many have said to me that eliminating their “inner editor,” that is, stopping the judgment, for the month was liberating. Others found a discipline in having to get to a word count on a daily basis. Still others understood that they actually are writers, they’ve actually written a novel, no small feat. I can tell you that the look of elation on some of the participants’ faces when they tell me they’ve finished the draft was amazing and priceless.

Kate Sipples is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Onsite). Follow her writing adventures at http://twitter.com/KateofGoodHope.

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