This year is the 15th that Meredith Hasemann, a writer and English teacher at the East Hampton Middle School, has taken on a challenge to write an entire novel — at least 50,000 words — in one month. She’s crossed the finish line a few times, along with a number of her students over the same time period, as she uses the project as a classroom assignment.
It is all part of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit organization that provides educational resources and encouragement in November as thousands of people across the world take on the challenge of writing a 50,000-word story in 30 days.
“I’ve had some really great experiences with NaNoWriMo,” Ms. Hasemann said. One year, she found an agent for her NaNoWriMo project, which came close to getting picked up by one of the large publishing houses. “It’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The sense that I can do a story from zero, do research on characters and create something entirely new, was pretty tremendous for me. It’s pretty empowering knowing I have it in me to do this.”
She says the middle school was one of the first schools to do NaNoWriMo as a class project. A few years after she started doing it, the organization began its young writers program, and many other schools followed suit.
During November, Ms. Hasemann has been instructing her eighth-grade students to reach a minimum of 10,000 words; her honors class is assigned a goal of 15,000. Almost every student achieves it, she said.
“I think that a lot of them don’t think they can do it, and don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves, and some of them really discover a skill that they have that they never knew they had before,” Ms. Hasemann said. “That’s exciting. I think it’s good for their understanding of long-term projects and planning.”
Some South Fork libraries and independent workshop groups have programs and resources that can benefit a writer as he or she spends the month of November writing. At the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, two authors, Marissa Levien and Jeannie Moon, will share advice on self-editing (Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m.) and on “pathways to publication” (Nov. 24 at 3 p.m.), respectively.
In its newsletter, the library describes NaNoWriMo as “a fun, seat-of-the-pants approach to creative writing.”
One Sag Harbor writer who plans to take advantage of those resources is Lora Tucker. A part-time resident for many years and now a full-time one, Ms. Tucker has begun writing a book loosely based on some of her experiences as a social worker in New York City.
“It’s the first time I’m doing something this crazy,” she said. “Fifty thousand words is daunting, but I might as well start somewhere. . . . Wherever I go, if it’s somewhere I’m sitting and relaxing, then I’m writing.”
She intends to work writing time into her daily schedule, realizing that the NaNoWriMo challenge is about commitment, practice, and accountability. “If I start with discipline, writing every day, I’ll get some chops. . . . It’s like college. No one tells you to go to class or do the work.”
Ms. Tucker got her start as a poet, studying with Louis Reyes Rivera years ago. “He was the one who told me, ‘You are a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you you are not. You don’t need a Master of Fine Arts degree to write, but you should probably get a book on grammar.’ ”
She is an active member of the Eastville Community Historical Society, and on Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. she will lead an open-mike storytelling session at the society’s gallery space on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor. “I’m encouraging others who are doing NaNoWriMo to come and read your work out loud,” she said.
At the East Hampton Middle School, Ms. Hasemann gives her students a mini-lesson every day — grammar, punctuation, dialogue, setting, etc. — before they go about writing.
“When you practice a sport and go out every day, you run laps and do drills, then you become better at that sport,” she said. “The same goes for writing every day.”
More information on the November writing challenge is online at nanowrimo.org.