A month-long series of writing workshops hosted by the Student Writer’s Guild has created a new hub on campus for developing writers.
English major Katie Poland is a freshman at The University of Alabama, but she has already written five novels, including a three-book trilogy that she has been working on since she was 14 years old.
“It’s mainly about these eight kids who all have telepathy, so they can talk to each other in their minds, and they don’t have any idea how they got it,” Poland said. “So it’s kind of about their journey and figuring out how they got their gift and where they go from this point in becoming their own people.”
Poland has no shortage of ideas for her stories. Where she struggles, she said, is in finishing them.
“Sometimes it’s hard to find the drive or the time, and a lot of times it’s just hard to let go of this little world you’ve created,” Poland said.
When Poland decided to participate in the University’s NaNoWriMo Write-Ins, hosted by the Student Writer’s Guild and the UA Program in Creative Writing, she found the accountability she needed.
National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, is a creative initiative that was established in 1999 and challenges writers to finish a novel over the 30 days of November. A novel generally constitutes a minimum of 40,000 or 50,000 words.
“It’s hard to fit in writing every day,” Poland said. “Having one or two days a week where I know I can come here and write for an hour is really great, and being around people who enjoy doing the same thing as I do is so wonderful.”
Valerie Lawhorn, a junior majoring in English and president of the Student Writer’s Guild, revived the club last year and organized this month’s NaNoWriMo Write-Ins.
“[Writer’s Guild] was kind of a dead club that I picked up and wanted to reinvigorate because I think it has a lot to offer,” Lawhorn said. “It’s a writing club for all majors, and there’s just a wealth of ideas and different kinds of people so it makes for a really creative space.”
The NaNoWriMo Write-Ins offer another haven on campus this month for amateur writers: a safe environment where they can share and develop ideas with support from their peers. For an hour and a half twice a week, in a third-floor classroom in Morgan Hall with only desks and a table of snacks, students united by a shared passion engage and encourage one another.
“I kind of orient it towards the people there and what they need in the moment,” Lawhorn said. “If it’s a larger group, I’ll go around and see what people need individually instead of taking from the whole group, and if they wanna break off, they usually do a little bit and conversate about certain parts of their pieces. But it tends to be a room of people just typing it out and going at it.”
Lawhorn said there has been anywhere from five to 15 people at each write-in and that familiar faces seem to signal a high retention rate.
The write-ins have attracted a diverse group, including English, computer science and engineering majors who are writing in a variety of genres, including fantasy, psychological thriller and horror.
Poland is using the time to rewrite the second book in her trilogy; Omar Williams, an accounting major, is developing a collection of superhero origin stories; and Lawhorn is expanding an old short story about a post-apocalyptic world into a full novel.
“It’s a little less ‘Mad Max’ and a little more so about the interactions between human beings and remembering that community still exists regardless of what’s going on in the outside world,” Lawhorn said.
Each NaNoWriMo participant is at a different stage in their writing, however, and some aren’t even developing novels, instead using the write-ins to work on their poetry, comic books or essays. While some students settle in the corners of the room, using headphones to block out distractions, others gravitate towards the middle of the room and question each other about their characters and plot lines.
Computer science major Nikki Morgan said discussing her work with others can help her find fresh perspective and explore ideas she hadn’t fully thought through before.
Freedom, flexibility and collaboration have been the foundation for the welcoming, inspiring environment the NaNoWriMo Write-Ins have created in Morgan Hall.
“I have a few people that are actually interested in joining the Writer’s Guild full-time because they’ve enjoyed the space, so it’s honestly just been a really fun adventure,” Lawhorn said.