National Novel Writing Month Logo

Photo Source:


Since 1999, writers from all across the globe have gathered together in a virtual clubhouse each November.  For thirty days, each writer attempts to conquer one of the marathons of writing—the novel.  Some have notebooks filled with plans and outlines to guide their storytelling; others fly by the seat of their pants.  They talk about word counts and word wars.  They discuss character names and plot twists.  More than anything, they offer support to each other—word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter, reaching for the 50,000-word goal.

Once Upon a Time…

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is the brainchild of Chris Baty, a twenty-something without “anything better to do” (Baty).  It took place in July 1999 near the San Francisco Bay Area.  It was a challenge that he created for himself and his group of twenty friends.  For a month, they sat around, eating junk food and consuming large amounts of caffeine.  He admits that the novels weren’t great, but he had a blast writing.  Moreover, Baty maintains that his sense of what was possible had been changed forever—“if my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it” (Baty).  It was only the beginning.

“Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.”–the creators of NaNoWriMo (Writing)

2014 NaNoWriMo by the Numbers


Rules?  What Rules?

The organizers of NaNoWriMo believe that 50,000 is a “difficult but doable” goal—one that can be reached by people who have other obligations during the month as well.  The rules get a little fuzzier at this point.  Some participants might write novels.  Others may write poems or screenplays.  Some even venture into the world of fanfiction for their favorite movies or television shows.  And still others write nonfiction–histories, theses, and dissertations.  More than anything, it’s about putting words on the page.  Basically, if you think you’re writing something novel-like, they’ll not disagree with you.

Simply put, participants are allowed to plan their novels in advance but cannot write a single word until 12:00am on November 1.  They have until 11:59pm on November 30 to submit their completed works to the NaNoWriMo word validation program.  If they meet the word count, they win.  There is no limit to the number of winners allowed.  Winners receive a certificate and the satisfaction of a job well done.


NaNoWriMo Winners Have Become Traditionally Published Authors

  • Sara Gruen – Water for Elephants
  • Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus
  • Hugh Howey – Wool
  • Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl
  • Jason Hough – The Darwin Elevator
  • Marissa Meyer – Cinder

Source –

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Ok, that might be one of the worst opening lines ever, but don’t worry. Part of what makes NaNoWriMo successful is the supportive online community.  They’ll help you navigate the writing waters.

The life of a writer can be quite solitary, and alleviating that is one of NaNoWriMo’s strengths.  No matter where our heads take us, we’re still alone with a keyboard or a pen.  However, during the month of November, more than 300,000 writers are joining you on this journey.  These writers will support, encourage, socialize, and compete in order to push everyone closer to the goal.

The NaNoWriMo staff communicates with participants throughout the month of November, offering pep talks from published authors such as Stephanie Perkins, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, N. K. Jemisin, and Gene Luen Yang.

However, the support doesn’t end there.  The main website supports a forum where participants can interact with each other.  You can step into a forum for help with plot holes, character names, locations–if you need help with your story, there’s likely someone willing to help.

Participants also interact outside of the official site, frequently communicating with each other through social media like Twitter and Facebook (Harris 123).

One of the more traveled areas of the NaNoWriMo site is the forum dedicated to “Word Wars.”  Posters will indicate a start time and end time, letting others respond if they plan to participate.  The writer with the highest word count (as indicated by their own admission) wins the competition.  As Sarah E. Harris, assistant professor of English at Indiana University East, states, “while each writer is composing, or inventing, in isolation, the interactive nature of the game creates motivation to continue, as participants encourage one another to keep writing using textual markers of enthusiasm and support” (124).

And don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit the 50,000 word goal.  Take heart from the tweet of the official NaNoWriMo Twitter account in November 2012: “As we enter the final minutes and hours of NaNo 2012, remember that it’s not always finishing that inspiring. Sometimes it’s starting” (Harris 125).


Additional Programs

  • The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
  • The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centers, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighborhood.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.


In conclusion…

NaNoWriMo is only one of many online writing communities that have popped up online since the development of the Internet.  It continues to grow as a community of support for both experienced and fledgling writers throughout the world, offering support word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter each November.  Until next year, NaNoWriMo!

Works Cited

Baty, Chris. “National Novel Writing Month.” National Novel Writing Month. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“Can You Nanowrimo?.” Writing 28.6 (2006): 13. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Harris, Sarah E. “From the Fictional to the Real: Creative Writing and the Reading Public.” The University of Arizona (2013). Web. 10 Oct. 2015.


Shame on You: The Phenomenon of Public Shaming on the Internet


Wooden pillories from the colonial era — Photo Credit: Pinch of Salt

“It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very idea of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature—whatever be the delinquencies of the individual,—no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do.”

— Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Public Shaming in the United States can be traced back to the colonial era, a time when the stocks and pillories were routinely used as punishment by governmental and church authorities. Little evidence explains why punitive shaming fell out of favor.  It’s likely that public outcry “bemoaning the outsize cruelty” made continuing the practice untenable, particularly when “well-meaning people, in a crowd, often take punishment too far” (Ronson par. 44).

In this new digital age, we no longer require the government or church agents to rule on a person’s guilt or innocence.  We judge our neighbors, our co-workers, and even people that we’ve never met–and we do it from the privacy and comfort of our homes and offices.  We decide who deserves public humiliation for some behavior that has offended us.  We are the judge and jury, and we use the Internet as a virtual pillory.

When did public shaming make the jump to the Internet?

It’s hard to say when the first byte of ridicule made its way across the networks of World Wide Web.  It might be easier to make a case that the first person to really feel the collective wrath of the Internet was Monica Lewinsky.

Monica Lewinsky’s private life and personal relationships became collateral damage in the war between President Bill Clinton and Independent Prosecutor Kenneth Starr.  At the time, she was a 22-year-old White House intern whose only crime was “fall[ing] in love with [her] boss” (Lewinsky).  After a whirlwind romance, she was “swept up into the eye of a political, legal, and media maelstrom”—the likes of which had never before been seen (Lewinsky).

Unfortunately for Lewinsky, her scandal and subsequent shame took place at the beginning of the digital revolution.  Even a few years earlier, this scandal would have been exposed in any of three traditional media outlets: newspapers or magazines, radio, and television.  However, in this new digital age, her scandal could be reviewed at all hours of the day by any person in the world with an Internet connection. Websites provided audio copies of evidence subpoenaed as part of the Starr investigation, including “Linda Tripp’s wiring and taping, Lewinsky’s taped telephone conversations with both Tripp and Clinton, and Lewinsky’s titillating narratives for her trusted friends and relatives” (Glenn 96).  In fact, this scandal was initially exposed on the Internet—the first time that the traditional news media was “usurped by the Internet for a major news story” (Lewinsky).

In an instant, she gained worldwide infamy and became a target of public ridicule.  Lewinsky states that “technology led to mobs of virtual stone-throwers” (Lewinsky).  In this time before Facebook and Twitter, people could let their personal judgements flow in the comment sections of news sites or through their emails.  She couldn’t turn on a television without seeing her face plastered all over “to sell newspapers, banner ads online, and to keep people tuned to the TV,” being branded “a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo, and, of course, that woman” (Lewinsky).  During this time, Lewinsky wasn’t even allowed to defend herself publicly as she was held under a gag order by Starr (Glenn 96).

Lewinsky has admitted that the pressures of her ordeal nearly lead her to suicide.

How has online public shaming evolved?

Clay Shirky, a consultant on the effects of the internet on society, writes that “the ways in which the information we give off about ourselves, in photos and e-mails and MySpace pages and all the rest of it, has dramatically increased our social visibility and made it easier for us to find each other but also to be scrutinized in public” (11-12).

Lewinsky became an internet sensation through no fault of her own.  While some may take exception to her actions, she did not seek out the attention of others online.  But what can happen when we upset the internet through our own actions on social media?

Public relations specialist, Justine Sacco was on a business trip when she brought down the wrath of the Internet.  She’d been telling a few jokes to her 170 Twitter followers when she posted a comment that she considered witty at the time.

Sacco's infamous tweet

Sacco’s infamous tweet — Photo credit: The Guardian

She pressed send and boarded her plane to South Africa.  When she arrived eleven hours later, she had received a message from a friend that said only “I am so sorry to see what’s happening” (Ronson par. 5).  Her next message was from her best friend; it said that she needed to call right away—“You are the worldwide number one trending topic on Twitter” (Ronson par. 6).  What Sacco didn’t know was that one of her Twitter followers had forwarded her tweet to a Gawker journalist who then retweeted it to his 15,000 followers.

Jon Ronson, journalist and author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, describes Sacco’s experience as a “horror show” (Ronson par. 7).  Initially, responses to her tweet suggested activism with multiple people suggesting donations to African charities.  Then, public pressure on her employer required the company to respond via Twitter as well, calling her tweet “an outrageous, offensive comment” (Ronson par. 7).

However, as time passed, activism had become entertainment.  People were fascinated by her complete ignorance over the furor she had created.  The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet began trending worldwide.  Twitter users were encouraging people to head to the Cape Town airport in order to catch a glimpse of Sacco as she exited the plane.

Everyone seemed to forget that this wasn’t scripted entertainment.  It was a real-life situation with real-life consequences.  Sacco lost her job and had to relocate in the aftermath of her tweet.

Initially, Sacco attempted to explain her situation—explain what she considered a poorly worded joke.  Since then she has since refused to comment on the event, stating that she’s trying to concentrate on her present and future (Ronson par. 57-58).

Real People Become Virtual Targets

  • Lindsay Stone – a thirty-something-year-old woman who mocked a sign at Arlington National Cemetery.  Stone stood between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a sign that asked for “Silence and Respect.”  She posed for a photograph, pretending to scream and flashing her middle finger.  A friend posted the picture on Facebook.  Four weeks later, she discovered the existence of a Facebook page named “Fire Lindsay Stone” and fell under a barrage of press coverage.  She was fired from her job working with developmentally disabled adults.  Since her ordeal, she has been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and insomnia.  She rarely leaves her home (Ronson par. 15-16).
  • Alicia Ann Lynch – a twenty-something-year-old woman who dressed a Boston Marathon bombing survivor for Halloween.  She posted a picture of herself – wearing running gear and splattered with fake blood – to Twitter.  Threats and harassment began almost instantly.  Her personal information was discovered, and threats began to arrive at the homes of her friends and relatives.  She was fired from her job as well (Ronson par. 17).
  • Tyler Clementi – an eighteen-year-old gay man who was publicly outed by his roommate.  His roommate used a webcam to record Clementi while being intimate with another man.  The video was posted on the internet.  Within days, Clementi was being harassed and ridiculed by dozens of online individuals.  To end the torment, Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge in New York City.  He died on impact (Lewinsky).

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, cruelty to others is not a new phenomenon.  However, public shaming has become technologically amplified and permanently accessible.  It extends farther than your hometown, your family, or your community—the entire world can watch you stumble and fall.  Virtual strangers can place you in a online pillory and shower you with hateful words.

It seems that “our social tools are not an improvement to modern society; they are a challenge to it” (Shirky 107).

Works Cited

Glenn, Cheryl. Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.


Lewinsky, Monica. “The Price of Shame.” TED. Web. 17 Sept. 2015. <>.


Ronson, Jon. “Feed Frenzy: How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.” New York Times Magazine 12 Feb. 2015. Print.


Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

The Battle over Net Neutrality

by Heather Tolliver

The Internet has become a fact of life for most Americans.  According to the Pew Research Center, more than 87% of adults in the United States use the Internet. Among Internet users, more than 70% believe that it would be hard for them to give up (Fox and Rainie, “Americans’ Views”).  With this increasing dependence on the Internet, the issue of fair and reliable access to the Internet has become one of the most important issues in today’s world.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should provide consumers with unrestricted access to all legal content and applications on the Internet.  It is “not asking for the Internet for free,” nor is it saying that “one shouldn’t pay more money for high quality of service” (Berners-Lee).  Net neutrality maintains that ISPs should not favor some sources or deliberately block access to other sources.  Net neutrality also prohibits ISPs from charging content providers additional fees for faster delivery of their content or intentionally slowing access for other content providers.

Why Is It Important?

Most Americans receive their high-speed Internet access from only a few telecommunications companies–companies like AT&T, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Verizon.  When we use the Internet services of these companies, we expect them to provide the service.  We don’t expect them to evaluate our activity on the Internet and then decide whether or not we deserve access to those websites or that information.

And it’s not just a theoretical issue.  According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there have already been instances where corporations have restricted access to certain websites or internet applications.

How Has Net Neutrality Been Violated?

  • In August 2007, AT&T censored a performance by the rock group Pearl Jam. The ISP turned off the sound on the live feed when Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder sang lyrics critical of President George Bush.  An AT&T spokesperson claimed that the performance was censored due to profanity despite the fact that the censored section contained no profanity.
  • In 2007, Comcast throttled data access and sometimes completely blocked all users that participated in peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent. Comcast claimed it was an effort to end the transfer of pirated content, but they blocked legitimate uses of peer-to-peer networks as well.
  • In late 2007, Verizon Wireless blocked access to an application sponsored by the pro-choice advocacy group NARAL. The application allowed messages to be sent between members of the group.  Verizon stated that it would not allow any applications “that seek to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any users.”  Public outrage forced Verizon Wireless to reverse its decision.

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

Sometimes violations of net neutrality are not so obvious and may even be disguised as a gift to the consumer.  According to Jeff John Roberts, technology writer at Fortune magazine, T-Mobile recently offered free data for consumers when they stream music on their phones (84).  It sounds like a great deal until you realize that T-Mobile is favoring one type of web traffic over another.  Now that AT&T and Verizon have purchased video companies, what’s stopping them from promoting some types of video programming over others?  It could be the beginning of content discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees on the subject of net neutrality.  Peter Gregory, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative public policy think tank advocating free market policies, calls net neutrality “a grab-bag of cartoonish anti-corporate populism” and argues that the net neutrality rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission are “a threat to the freedom of the internet and its capacity for continued innovation and improvement” (33).

Is Net Neutrality Really Necessary?

  • Historically, Internet Service Providers have been allowed to block or speed up access as well as charge content providers for priority services, and they have not done so in large numbers. Instances of censorship have been “incredibly rare” (34).
  • If, for some reason, Internet Service Providers began to add these fees as a common practice, consumers would find other ISPs that allowed access to the entire Internet—or at least the parts that the consumer wanted to access. If no telecommunications giant offered access, then new opportunities would open for technology entrepreneurs to fill a market need.  In turn, this competition would drive prices down.
  • Net neutrality “betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nexus between innovation and truly free markets” (34). Increased revenues could lead to increases in innovation and technological advances.

Source: Institute of Public Affairs

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, disagrees with those who argue against the need for net neutrality regulation.  He states that while net neutrality has been the unspoken rule of the past, there are new threats—“real explicit threats”—that have been exposed (Berners-Lee).  In the United States, these threats include the control of information being held by corporations for commercial reasons.

Berners-Lee admits that the Internet thrives on a lack of regulation but contends that “some basic values have to be preserved” and that “freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet and the society based on it.”

What’s the Next Step for Net Neutrality?

Brian Fung, technology reporter for The Washington Post, warns that the battle over net neutrality is far from resolved.  He suggests that the next battlefield could be in front of the United States Supreme Court.  Some net neutrality opponents are comparing the issue to the Court’s decision on the Citizens United case where it was determined that a corporation is allowed to have the same Constitutional protections as a citizen.  They  insist that the Federal Communications Commission is violating a corporation’s freedom of speech by “denying broadband providers of their editorial discretion by compelling them to transmit all lawful content, including Nazi hate speech, Islamic State videos, pornography, and political speech with which they disagree” (Fung).

Proponents of net neutrality who defend the Federal Communications Commission decision say that’s the point of net neutrality.  They liken broadband service to telecommunications services – they shouldn’t be deciding what’s acceptable and what isn’t; they should only be concerned with transferring information, and doing so without judgement.

Final Thoughts

The net neutrality argument is far from being finished.  As a society and culture so invested in the Internet, we, as Americans, must listen to the arguments and decide how the Internet should be regulated or even if it should be regulated at all.  Our decision will determine the future of our online world.

Works Cited

Berners-Lee, Tim. “Net Neutrality: This Is Serious.” Net Neutrality: This Is Serious. 21 June 2006. Web. 17 Oct. 2015. <;.

Fox, Susannah, and Lee Rainie. “How the Internet Has Woven Itself into American Life.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2015. <;.

Fox, Susannah, and Lee Rainie. “Americans’ Views about the Role of the Internet in Their Lives.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2015. <;.

Fung, Brian. “Net Neutrality Could Become the Biggest Face-Off on Corporate Speech Since Citizens United.” The Washington Post 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.

Gregory, Peter. “Net Neutrality is Techno Socialism.” Institute of Public Affairs Review 67.2 (2015): 32-35. Business Source Complete. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Roberts, Jeff John. “A New Fight for Net Neutrality.” Fortune 171.8 (2015): 84. Business Source Complete. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

“What Is Net Neutrality?” American Civil Liberties Union. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.