November is for NaNoWriMo! A discussion with CALS staff member J. Jobe

A woman wearing glasses and a blue and purple shirt, in front of a colorful stack of shelves

Jobe [ she / her ] “The Rainbows Herself” is a vivacious exultant of color, sound, and movement. She celebrates alma maters Knox College and University of Central Arkansas. By day Jobe is the editorial Assistant for the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Full bio here.

What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every year in November. It is a nationwide and even worldwide phenomenon where around 300,000 writers commit to each write 50,000 words in 30 days. It averages to about 1,666 – 1,667 words per day. Some of the best things about it are: 1. The fact that everyone is doing the work at the same time, so you have a sense of community and mutual encouragement 2. Feeling the sense of urgency that’s created by having a deadline (even though the deadline is actually quite arbitrary) and 3. Knowing that quantity, not quality, is the only thing that’s going to see you through. When the aim is to write absolutely as much as possible rather than write your best, you tend to be able to turn off that inner editor or critic. Permission to write badly frees your creativity to take you in wild and unexpected directions. Besides, you have another 11 months out of the year to work on editing and revision.

How many times have you participated?

I have been a participant every year since I started in 2011 and I’ve been our region’s municipal liaison since 2020. That just means I make sure we’ve got events going on and keep people excited about writing. Nano was started in 1999 and has been going strong ever since. A friend who worked at the library was the person who first told me about it and I’m so ecstatic to get to be that person now for others.

How can others get involved? 

If you feel confident navigating a new website on your own, check out and make a user, then play around on the site and get your first project set up. If you’d rather get help walking through that process, just show up to one of our many events and I or another experienced NaNoWriMo-er will be happy to help. We have a Facebook group and a forum and all kinds of fun stuff.

Tell me about the writing classes at CALS.

The CALS Writing Circle has really blossomed in the last couple of years and I’m so excited to be part of it. My mentor Deb Moore is the one who started the whole thing with her super popular course, Memoir Writing for Seniors. Now we have dozens of courses we offer throughout the year from LGBTQ+ courses for teens and young adults with Becca and Jet in LVL 4 to beta reading and workshop classes on Zoom where we can read and give feedback on one another’s work from the comfort of our own homes. Whether you want to know how to tarot journal, dream journal, or art journal, whether you want to write songs or just write quietly with others on your lunch break, we’ve got something for everyone. And if you want a specific writing program to be offered at your branch of CALS just let us know, we’re happy to travel.

For NaNoWriMo specifically we start with a kickoff party at the end of October. I like to do games and prizes to get everybody really pumped up. I host virtual write-ins every Saturday 10a-2p and every Sunday 2p-6p throughout the month, the idea being that if you prefer to write earlier or later there’s something that caters to that. I and other Nano-ers will provide a special kind of themed writing prompt series called a Word Crawl that’s pretty fun, and I like to mix it up with written prompts as well as visual art prompts and auditory prompts, exploring different musical styles. All of the events are always come and go as you need to, eat when you want, ask questions if you got ’em, wear your pajamas if you feel like it, no judgements. We’re super chill. Once or twice during the month we also do an all-day write-a-thon. This year I’m excited to share that we’ll be hosting two–one at Barnes & Noble and one at the Roberts Library branch. The latter will include an optional participation potluck snack bar. Then when it’s all over we have a December “Thank Goodness It’s Over” party where we get together and talk about all the highs and lows, victories and defeats.

Do you have any advice for a first time Nano-er?

Don’t be scared to dive into the deep end. There are so many of us here who can help you find your way as you go. You can do this.

NaNoWriMo is all about writing, but what do you recommend for reading to help prepare?

If you want a funny read you can check out Chris Baty’s No Plot, No Problem — he’s one of the original founders, and has really silly advice for how to up your word count, from “never use contractions” to “give one of your main characters two first names” so that every time you mention them you’re adding two words instead of one. There’s also a Nano book specifically for younger writers called Brave the Page. Any book that encourages you to write is a good one. If you want to read what established authors have to say about it, search the CALS catalog for “on writing” or “writing life” — you can’t go wrong with the first five pages of results…Just  skip the ones that are “best writing on mathematics.” If you want a short list: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit, Stephanie Vanderslice’s Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life, Stephen King’s On Writing, Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Anything by William Zinsser, Brenda Ueland, Julia Cameron. Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art.

Watch Jobe on The Vine talking about NaNoWriMo.