National Novel Writing Month Strikes Different Tone Amid COVID-19

lockdown causes "stay-at-home" burnout among authors preparing for marathon writing sessions

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

National Novel Writing Month is underway, 2020 style. Due to the pandemic, self-isolating for novel production is different than in other years. NaNoWriMo Executive Director Grant Faulkner told us more.

Woman typing on laptop
As 2020 has been a year unlike any other year, many writers are finding it hard to focus on their craft. Photo By Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

Every November marks National Novel Writing Month, during which authors around the world commit to writing 50,000 words of a manuscript—or as close to it as they can get. The official organization for the endeavor provides tools and community support for writers who are working on their books.

However, each year is generally marked by a period of eschewing social life and hunkering down to write a book. Since going into lockdown in March, staying home and working on a novel is a little different than most years.

The Great Courses’s own Julie Stoltz spoke with National Novel Writing Month Executive Director Grant Faulkner in an exclusive live chat about how this year’s procession is going and tips for writing that book.

A Half Marathon without Leaving the House

“The writers I’ve talked to have gone through a number of different phases this year. I think a lot of people, in the spring, they were energized to do two things: write a novel and bake sourdough bread,” Faulkner joked. “I think it provided a place of comfort and solace and refuge from the world. I think that got more and more challenging as the pandemic went on and as this crazy year has gone on.”

Faulkner said that considering all the events of 2020, “distractions” is far too light a word to describe the gravitas of things that have taken away from the normal focus on writing. He said that by the time we reached the fall, many novelists were already feeling burned out and exhausted, finding themselves struggling to write at all.

“Right now, we’re doing a campaign with National Novel Writing Month to invite people to do a half NaNo; essentially like a half marathon,” he said. “Instead of writing 50,000 words, write 25,000; the most important thing is just to be creative in your life.”

Fear of a Blank Page

During Stoltz’s conversation with Faulkner, she asked what advice he’d give first-timers who were intimidated by the idea of putting down 50,000 words for a novel—a very common problem.

“I think people get very used to talking themselves out of things and I think NaNoWriMo is a wonderful opportunity to talk yourself into things,” he said. “The New York Times did a survey several years ago and 81% of Americans said they wanted to write a book someday, and the crucial word there is ‘someday’ because we all say ‘I’m going to do this someday,’ and ‘someday’ tends not to happen.”

Faulkner said it’s important to ask ourselves how we’re going to make it happen today. There’s no reason to wait 10 or 20 years, for a time when we expect we’ll have less on our plates to worry about or more time to write.

“Perfect conditions for creativity, they don’t necessarily just happen; you have to make them happen,” he said. “I’ve never heard anyone on their deathbed say, ‘I wish I’d kept a neater house.’ They tend to say things like, ‘I wish I’d written that novel.’ We need occasions like this to lift up our dreams and make them a priority, and I think NaNoWriMo helps do that.”

Our full video chat with Grant Faulkner can be seen by clicking here.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily