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The Daily Tar Heel

National Novel Writing Month attracts many students

Senior Karen Bernstein has written four novels — and on Sunday, she’ll begin work on her fifth.

And she plans to finish it by the end of the month.

Bernstein is a participant in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event in which participants work to write 50,000 words, or 175 pages, in one month.

Writers begin Sunday and submit their work to a system that checks solely for quantity, not quality, by midnight on Nov. 30.

A kick-off party will be held Friday at the Franklin Street Caribou Coffee for the roughly 70 local writers currently signed up. The group will also meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the writing process.

The event has no individual winner. Anyone who registers and meets the word count by the end time “wins.” In 2008, more than 119,000 people from around the world participated. Only about 18 percent finished.

Bernstein said that being a creative writing minor draws her to the competition.

“It’s always really fun to have one thing that I know is not going to be graded. That’s one of the reasons I keep doing it,” she said.

The competition also relieves pressure for writers who are struggling with plot structure, Bernstein said.

“It doesn’t have to be a continuous plot,” she said. “So I write what I want to write. And sometimes that means I don’t finish themes and don’t finish conversations, and I go back in December and fill in the holes.”

Celeste Mitchell, a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science, organizes events for local participants.

“Having it as a social activity really helps people get the word count up. Peer pressure forces them to work,” she said.

Mitchell will begin work on her third novel during November. But instead of starting on Sunday, she’ll wait until she turns in her master’s paper Tuesday to take on the challenge.

“It’s pretty intense. You have to write about 1,667 words a day, which, for me, takes about two hours,” she said. “So long as you’re disciplined and actually spend the time on it, you can do it. And it’s not particularly difficult. You just have to stick with it.”

For Mitchell, who describes herself as a “professional procrastinator,” the contest is motivation to stick to a schedule.

“You get this really big adrenaline rush throughout the whole month, and having 175 pages of words that you didn’t have before is pretty cool,” she said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”

While neither Mitchell nor Bernstein have approached publishers regarding their products, in the 10 years since the event started, about 30 past participants have had their work published, Mitchell said.

But Mitchell said even if a participant’s work is never read, let alone finished, National Novel Writing Month allows the opportunity to work toward finishing a goal.

“Even if you don’t win, it’s still a really great experience because you still have more of a novel than you did at the beginning of the month,” she said. “Getting anything written is good.”

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