NaNoWriMo could help nudge a novel

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PITTSBORO — If you’ve got the Great American Novel percolating in your brain but haven’t yet put pen to paper, the month of November — and the 20th anniversary of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo — may be the nudge you need.

Launched in 1999 and, in the two decades since encouraging thousands of writers, young and old and of all experience levels, NaNoWriMo presents a straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November.

For perspective, 50,000 words is the approximate length of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

And while Jazz Age chronicler Fitzgerald, writing long before the nascence of the internet, didn’t compose his high school English Lit staple with the benefit of NaNoWriMo, other writers have successfully used the platform.

Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” a New York Times Best Seller for 12 weeks in 2006, and Rainbow Rowell’s popular and critically-acclaimed young adult novel “Fangirl” (2013) were both products of the November initiative.

Local coordinators of NaNoWriMo, which is a nonprofit organization supporting writing fluency and education, encourage those inclined to undertake the composing challenge.

“It’s a lot of fun — mentally and creatively challenging — and an easy way to develop camaraderie with other writers in an otherwise relatively solitary pursuit,” said Pittsboro author Dolly Sickles, a book critic with a national readership and author of a number of successful romance novels and children’s books.

Sickles, a participant in past NaNoWriMo since 2010, says she’ll be picking up her pen again this November. She plans to use the period to craft a new novel — she already knows the title — and she’s serving as a local coordinator, along with Maia James of Chapel Hill, of local NaNoWriMo activities.

James is handling events in the Chapel Hill area and Sickles is overseeing NaNoWriMo activities for the Pittsboro area.

“Together we’ve got lots of fun events planned,” said Sickles.

A kick-off party for Pittsboro area participants is planned from 10-11:30 a.m. on Friday at Aromatic Roasters in Pittsboro.

And several Write-In’s — where participants will gather for group writing sessions — are planned throughout the month. Sign-up and a list of local NaNoWriMo events is available online at

Participants may join the effort at any time during November. And participants may write in any genre they choose.

“It’s just a nice challenge for yourself,” said Sickles. “Sometimes you just need motivation. And it’s fun. I think it’s a fun thing for the community. And ultimately what NaNoWriMo does is promote literacy.”

Young writers are also encouraged to participate. NaNoWriMo offers the Young Writer’s Program (, lowering the word count to a still-challenging 30,000 words.

“It’s free,” Sickles noted.

Participants copy and paste their words into the online NaNo word count validator, which helps authors keep an eye on their progress throughout the month.

And for writers needing another reason to participate, there are prizes available from sponsors, including webinars from Kindle Direct Publishing and various tools for writers. Prizes are listed on the site.

Sickles said the Pittsboro/Chapel Hill region engages around 200 folks in the effort, and there’s room for more, Sickles said.

“The more writers in the world, the better,” she said.

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at


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