Posted by: Kristi Tuck Austin | November 12, 2010

1200 Richmonders can’t all be crazy, right? NaNoWriMo & RVA

Day twelve of National Novel Writing Month: 1200 people across the Richmond region type frantically to reach today’s goal of 20,000 words.  Will they make it?  Municipal liaison Jean Anderson believes they can.  Throughout November, Jean emails encouragement and organizes write-ins across the metro area to spur people toward the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.  Jean was kind enough to take a break from novel writing to answer a few questions about NaNoWriMo.

Why do you participate in NaNoWriMo?

I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, but the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood have over the years eaten the time I used to lose myself in writing and leisure reading. NaNoWriMo gives me a concrete and specific space in my life to indulge again.

How did you get involved?

I heard about NaNoWriMo while at a Harry Potter book release party. I made friends with Tiffany, a woman who had, just like me, brought her kids to cover the fact that she wanted to geek out on Harry Potter more than they did. She and I both loved to read and write, and she told me about NaNoWriMo. She never won — she never wrote 50,000 words in all the years she’s participated — but she signed up every year anyhow. I admired her attitude, “try, try again,” and when I explored the website, I saw the community of encouragement and commitment wrapped up with a healthy dose of fun and not taking oneself too seriously. NaNoWriMo was a way to commit to finally just put my feet to the fire and write.

In the forums people complained about getting stuck, puzzled over how their characters grew minds of their own, asked for ideas for their stories as well as how to keep their family from getting mighty sick of takeout pizza — but they kept on writing. I saw virtual high-fives, people celebrating their good days and commiserating over the bad. I didn’t finish my first year. I had challenged myself to write 50,000 words, and I did not meet that challenge — but I wasn’t discouraged. I felt competitive with myself: next year I would beat myself. I’ve won every year since.

What does your role as NaNoWriMo municipal liaison entail?

As a Municipal Liaison I plan the Kick-Off and TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) parties. I organize Write-Ins, maintain the regional forum, and send out Nano-mails of announcements and encouragements to the participants who are signed up in my region.  Setting a good example by starting and finishing a novel is important, too. This year, with a trip to Europe eating up almost two weeks of November, I am very challenged to keep up.

What events are planned for this year’s NaNoWriMo?

The Kick-Off Party was wonderfully successful, and I was thrilled so many people attended. The support and upbeat encouragement you get as a “wrimo” comes from all the other people facing the same challenge as you. After November ends, the TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) Party gives participants the chance to celebrate the highs and lows with each other — not just the people who won by writing 50,000+ words: it’s a party for everyone who signed up for NaNoWriMo to celebrate every word they wrote.

In past years I’ve planned and attended Write-Ins in different parts of the Richmond area. At Write-Ins, NaNoWriMo participants gather in coffee shops or bookstores or cafes, with laptops or journals in hand, and sit together to write. Since this year is the most time-challenged I’ve faced since I joined NaNoWriMo, I am encouraging the Richmond area wrimos not to hesitate but jump out and organize their own gatherings.

How many people in the Richmond area are participating in NaNoWriMo this year?  How does that number compare to previous years?

There are over 1200 people signed up this year. Last year it was roughly 600; before that 400+, and only this past September there were 800. The Kick-Off parties have grown these past few years: from the 20-odd people who came to the Olive Garden on Broad Street in ’05, to the nearly a hundred people who came to The Capital Ale House in Midlothian. The Capital Ale House has become our home for Kick-Off parties for the past two years since they welcome NaNoWriMo so warmly. This year they provided a free appetizer and dessert setting for the party, as well as special customized certificates for NaNoWriMo participants worth $10 toward a $20 purchase at any of their restaurant locations.

Do you know last year’s total word count for the Richmond area?

Unfortunately no. NaNoWriMo wipes all info each year in the fall in preparation for November. However, on the main page you can see a graph representing the donations collected so far. Donations keep the NaNoWriMo website up and running, brings NaNoWriMo to more communities, and provides free curriculum and materials to teachers for the Young Writers Program.  Donations are tax-deductible, and you get a shiny gold halo on your profile page, too.

What is your favorite NaNoWriMo success story or anecdote?

I love best the energy at the Kick-Off Party: writers and adventurers preparing to take the plunge, but I also love NaNoWriMo in my own house. Everyone can’t participate every year, but once in a while — and this year is one of them — my husband, two teenaged children, and I all write a novel. There are times when the kitchen table is covered in laptops and pizza boxes, and then someone will start instant messaging at the table — usually trying to pester the person who has the highest word count. We get competitive around here!

In your opinion, what makes Richmond writers unique?

I feel the entire NaNoWriMo community all around the world is a singular unit — everyone is facing the same 50,000 words. Also, I haven’t volunteered or participated in NaNoWriMo in other regions; it’s hard for me to compare. However, in my experiences as a writer living in different states over the past twenty years I can say that my encounter with the enthusiastic Richmond Wrimos has given me the biggest sense of support. I love best how the writers in the Richmond area don’t hesitate to reach out and seek each other’s company.

What advice do you have for NaNoWriMo participants?

Write. Just sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and start moving them around.  If you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you challenge yourself to write those 50,000 words. Having 100,000 other people in the same boat as you is encouraging, but ultimately it’s just you and the blank page, and when you meet that challenge, the pride and satisfaction in the words you produced cannot be compared. And lastly, if writer’s block strikes, and your word count is lagging, I suggest throwing a monkey wrench into your novel’s plot — blow something up!

Thanks, Jean!  Happy writing.

If you’re interested in the goal of 50,000 words in a month, it’s not too late.  There’s still time to sign up on, organize a write-in, and type in a caffeine-fueled frenzy.  If you start today, you won’t be far behind me.  We can do it, Richmond, and we have Jean to help.  If you’re a NaNoWriMo writer, leave a shout-out in the comments section.  Include your user name so we can follow your progress on  And let me know if you’re interested in a River City Fiction NaNoWriMo write-in.


  1. Forgot to mention, you can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as K.T. Austin. Just promise you won’t laugh at the word count.

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