Ready, Get Set, Write

At 7pm every day, Prakash Hegde gets ready for a literary sprint.
Ready, Get Set, Write

At 7 pm every day, Prakash Hegde gets ready for a literary sprint. Along with a  group of writers from different corners of India, the 33-year-old sits down with his laptop, sets a timer and starts writing. When the hour is up, they update their individual word counts on their Facebook group and compare scores.

The challenge is to do this consistently for the month of November until they reach at least 50,000 words each. Also known as Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), these writers are taking part in the annual online writing movement where they furiously attempt to pen down a novel by the midnight of November 30.

NaNoWriMo was first introduced by American journalist Chris Baty in 1999. It was only in 2009 that Mumbai-based writer Sonia Rao first heard of NaNoWriMo. “I had a sudden urge to write a novel. On coming across the website, I signed up immediately,” she says. There were only a couple of people in the forum then, and Rao took charge as a Municipal Liason (ML) or a motivational leader. Things have changed since then with 5,000 Indians between the ages of 17 and 70 taking part this year.

The reasons for participating are different for each. For Piorre Hart, 39, an eye surgeon who writes under a pseudonym, it’s the deadlines that keep her going.  Hedge, an assistant professor in Hubli, Karnataka, confesses, “I procrastinated writing a book for years but after NaNoWriMo, it suddenly happened in just a month.”

While the prospect of a potential book pulls writers to NaNoWriMo, it’s the warm community that makes them stay. They keep in touch on their Facebook group, help each other with writer’s blocks, suggest character names, and if all else fails, motivate each other with memes. After writing the first draft in November, the group spends the rest of the year 
editing their manuscripts.

 This year, first-time 
participant Nandini Desai, 33, is the only one writing in a regional language. “I stay in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra where there aren’t many writer groups. I’ve joined for the community, which creates such a positive environment and motivates us,” says Desai.In the US, several bestsellers have been born out of NaNoWriMo, including The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. But in India getting published isn’t a cakewalk. “The ratio of participants that get published from NaMoWriMo is quite low,” says Neil D’Silva, 43, from Mumbai, who self-published his first WriMo book, Maya’s New Husband in 2015.  

But publishers have a different story. “I’m always on the lookout for fresh, new voices. NaNoWriMo sounds like a great place to look for new writers,” says Manasi Subramaniam, senior commissioning editor at Penguin Random House India. Literary agent Sherna Khambatta adds, “Publishers look at books from a business perspective and won’t publish something because it is written in a certain month. 

In the end, quality matters.” Perhaps, getting a book deal isn’t every NaNoWriMo participant’s end goal. Forsome, it’s a passion project. For others, it’s a month to dedicate to the written word. 

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The New Indian Express