Poets & Writers

The Insanity and the Inspiration

ON THE second floor of Big Blue Marble, an independent bookstore in the leafy Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia, Roz Carter plugged in her computer, popped in her earbuds, and turned on a playlist heavy on Prince and Janelle Monáe. At another table Sara Head pecked away at her keyboard, water bottle beside her. Nathan Long sat on the lumpy couch, computer parked on his lap, imagining a small town called Harbor and a young woman whose brother has been killed in a distant, ongoing war.

It was November 1, 2018, day one of the twentieth annual National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo to its aficionados—a project that, depending on one’s perspective, is either insanity or invitation, a thankless exercise or a creative kick-start: Write a fifty-thousand-word novel in a month. Slam out 1,667 words a day, every day, weekends and Thanksgiving and Black Friday included. Don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t tumble down the rabbit hole of research. And, in the process, join a community of three hundred thousand people around the world attempting the same literary feat.

Big Blue Marble had agreed to host three write-ins over the course of the month: casual gatherings where NaNoWriMo disciples could sip tea, compare word counts, and find kinship in the solitary slog of writing a book.

On this Thursday evening the writers briefly described their projects. “I’m working on a historical novel set in ancient Egypt that has paranormal aspects,” said Carter, a fifty-two-year-old administrative assistant and mother of two grown sons. “It has a set of twins as the main characters. There’s lust and magic. And hopefully I’ll get it done.”

Long, who at fifty-three is tall, reedy, and a little rumpled, looking every bit the professor on sabbatical he

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