A ‘Notebook’ in November?: 3 questions with Shannon Monroe for National Novel Writing Month

Fifty thousand words.

That’s the rough equivalent of a tenth of Infinite Jest, half of The Hobbit, or all of The Notebook (or, on the other end of the spectrum, one full Fight Club).

Shannon Monroe
Shannon Monroe

It’s also the goal for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the annual write-a-palooza celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The writing spree motivates authors of all genres and experience levels to turn off their inner editor and let the words flow.

Since 2015, Interlibrary Services’ Shannon Monroe (a published writer herself) has organized and hosted “write-ins” at the Library — come-as-you-are gatherings for NaNoWriMo where everyone, including staff, students, and faculty members, can gather and focus on their craft.

We caught up with Monroe to learn more about NaNoWriMo.

Can you tell me about NaNoWriMo? 

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. One of the challenges for most writers is finishing stories — which was one of my challenges. Through my local chapter meeting of Romance Writers of America, I heard about this book-in-a-month contest. I just jumped on it because I needed the push to finish the story I was working on at the time.

The purest form of the contest is to start fresh with a story on Nov. 1, and in order to “win” the contest, you must reach 50,000 words by Nov. 30 — whether that is the end of your story or not is entirely up to the writer. Over the years, the contest has evolved, and now you can “Rebel NaNo” and write short stories, memoirs, screenplays, revise a book — anything you want — but to “win,” you still have to write 50,000 words.

It started in 1999 by Chris Baty and his small group of friends from Berkeley who wanted to push each other to finish their novels. They challenged each other to try to do whatever they could in 30 days. Now over 300,000 people around the world do it every year. Everyone who signs up doesn’t always win, but at least they try.


National Novel Writing Month — Come Write In

Place: Doe Library, Room 180

Dates: Nov. 3, Nov. 10, Nov. 17, Nov. 24, Dec. 1 (We Did It Party!)

Time: 1-4 p.m.


Can you tell me about the write-ins at the UC Berkeley Library?

Back in 2007, when I started going to other people’s write-ins at Berkeley Public Library or other libraries, I realized: I work in a library. Other people in Berkeley are hosting write-ins, and it would be great if UC Berkeley and Doe Library could support this. In my view, it ties really well into the Library’s mission of building community engagement with the public, and outreach to the wider campus community as well. 

With the generous help of colleagues, I provide light refreshments and prizes to try and keep the attendees energized and motivated to keep writing. Every year, I’ve been lucky that attendance has gone up. Now our library is one of the regular locations for NaNoWriMo’s East Bay region, which is great. This will be our fifth year. 

At the end of the month, I host a “We Did It Party!” to celebrate all who made it through to the end of the month. And so I invite everybody — no matter if they won or didn’t win the contest — to come, and we share our story ideas and how the month went for everyone over a glass of Martinelli’s.

I’ll usually have people sit around the table, and we talk about our books. It’s a joy to see everyone get excited about their idea. They start to think, “Oh, somebody might want to read this one day,” which is nice.

Do you also participate in the contest? What do you value about it?

So far I’ve been able to finish, and I’ve won every year (for 12 years). Knock on wood!

It’s basically a global support system to be creative. We like to say, “Give yourself the freedom to be creative for at least these 30 days of the year — if you don’t do it any other time of the year. Allow yourself to be the writer you want to be.”