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But following the warning from Laughing Squid, the latter no longer is possible. And since a technological solution never materialized, Baty posts a message saying that word-count verification is canceled. People who complete 50,000 words will simply post their name and their novel's title to a "winners' page." "We ask you to rely on your own crafty means of verifying your novel, if having someone else sign off on your work is important to you," he writes. "E-mail it to a coworker or other impartial judge. Take it to a local coffee shop and make the cute barista look at it. Allow your own inventive self to shine. Find a path that gives you closure."
The news goes over like a ton of bricks in some quarters. "I am so disappointed," one disgruntled Wrimo writes Baty. "I was past 30,000 and, yes, looking for the completion of crossing a recognized finish line. I am frustrated that you did not have the foresight to plan for the many people that have started this project only to have the plug pulled halfway through." Others complain on the message board. "The honor system thing is taking the wind out of my sails," one writes. "I know it shouldn't matter, but it does."
Wrimos begin inventing nonofficial methods of verifying each other's novels. The Bay Area NaNo group sets up a database so that each Wrimo can have his or her word count checked by two other participants. A Wrimo who runs a message board for bloggers offers to create tiny, personalized logos that can be pasted on the Web sites of those who "absolutely, positively must prove to someone that they wrote 50,000 words in thirty days!"
Baty is puzzled by all the fuss. "On the one hand, I can sympathize," he says. "It's nice to be able to send the damn thing off somewhere. But on the other hand, for God's sake, what are these people doing it for? The goal is just kind of to pit yourself against yourself and really see what sort of huge realms of creativity you have untapped."
But online, the verification debate rages.
Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo moves into the home stretch. In the chat rooms, Wrimos swap wordcounts like war veterans comparing scars. There are stories of 8,000, 10,000, and 12,000-word days, of writers just about to give up hope when something clicks. "This morning, as I was negotiating the snow and freezing rain on the way to work, suddenly all this inspiration strikes me like a bolt of lightning," writes Wrimo Kevin McGrath. Carefully crafted plotlines are falling by the wayside. "Mine started out as an evil-people-take-over-the-world thing," writes another participant, "and is now essentially a marching-band story." Body counts are high, since it's easier to kill off half-baked characters than figure out what to do with them. Word counts are pumped up thanks to the addition of dream sequences, musical interludes, and characters who embark upon lengthy internal soliloquies.
Lohnes is stuck at 21,000 words, his wrists aching. But Murphy has almost finished his novel, and he's proud of the progress he's made. "The scariest thing about the novel was the fear that I might not have anything to say," he says. "While I didn't discover that I have an incredible novel in me, I definitely do have stuff to say and things I care about." Corragio's spider story unfolds beautifully once she manages to send her entire family away for the Thanksgiving holiday, giving her 104 uninterrupted hours for the first time in nine years. "I'm writing like a woman possessed," she says. "It feels like I'm going halfway out to meet this novel, by putting fingers to keyboard, and it's coming halfway back to meet me. It makes me wonder where all the ideas go that nobody goes out to meet."
All of this writing-as-if-possessed is paying off for the wave of novelists posting their names on the winners page. "At this point there are some really amazed and astounded new novelists out there," says Baty as he sits in Berkeley's Caffe Strada, pecking at a loaner laptop from AlphaSmart. "I'm starting to get e-mails from the woman who's a celebrity at the senior center, and the man who has wanted to write a novel his whole life and is finally able to do it."
But the success rate is plunging. In its first two years, NaNoWriMo had about a 33 percent completion rate; this year it will probably be closer to twenty percent. Roemer's fifth-grade class drops out at about 15,000 words after their school's week-long Thanksgiving break threw their schedule off. "By now, we knew we would never be able to finish the novel in time," one of the students posted to the class' own Web page. "But that didn't matter. ... Our novel will soon be finished and it will most probably be good." Many college students give up as finals season approaches. And the chat boards are full of messages from Wrimos who won't make the deadline, but swear they'll finish in December. Or maybe January. "When the month ends I can't just give up on this and resume my life as it was," writes Jesse Heindl, a Boston Wrimo. "I've got three Jamaican zombies, a cat, a werewolf, an accountant with multiple-personality disorder, and an evil megacorporation who demand that I go on!"
Baty's disappointed with the burn rate, although he realizes that many of the people who signed on in the wake of the media blitz probably hadn't fully committed themselves to the NaNoWriMo workload. "I look at an eighty percent failure rate and I want to go in everybody's apartment and slap them upside the head and tell them to get back to work," he says, "because when you break past that 35,000-word point and the end is in sight, and the book finally has a plot - probably a pretty meager one but there's a story to it - just nothing feels better. You're sitting down and you're writing and it's coming out fluidly and you know you're going to make it. That feeling is just one of the best in the world."
At least until the depression sets in.
San Francisco Wrimo Ed Chang has coined a phrase that quickly spreads across the chat boards - Post-NaNoWriMo Depression Syndrome. Even those who haven't finished yet are feeling the pang, and devising ways to ensure that NaNoWriMo community doesn't dissolve quite yet. Someone has set up a new Yahoo club for December called NaNoEdMo - National Novel Editing Month. Others propose that Baty save February for the speed-writing of screenplays.
For the Wrimos who have touched down on the other side of 50,000, it's been an emotional journey. "It was a winding path to 61,700 words, and when I got to 'The End,' I was sobbing hysterically," one writes. "This has been one of the best times of my whole life." Writes another: "Writing is not a lonely word. Not any more. The antisocial art is like a tennis club thanks to NaNoWriMo."