Bookcafe pens its own novel in celebration of NaNoWriMo

Volumes Bookcafe, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Thomas Flynn had not picked up a pen to write in over a decade, but that changed when Volumes Bookcafe decided to honor the annual National Novel Writing Month by putting together its own novella, written by a community of employees and patrons, which began on Nov. 1. 

“I took the recommendation to heart of ‘first thought, best thought’ and went with it,” said Flynn, the cafe’s manager and content buyer. “We’ll see if it will be another decade until I write again.”

The nonprofit program encourages writers around the world to meet a daily word count throughout November. By the end of the month, writers will have a completed book with a minimum of 50,000 words.

Rebecca George, owner of Wicker Park’s Volumes Bookcafe, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave., said the exquisite corpse method— different writers writing one chapter at a time until the project is finished—has helped ease the pressure of reaching such a high word count while also serving as a community builder.

“The hesitation for writers is [NaNoWriMo] seems cumbersome,” George said. “Why not tackle those nerves for a month [while] helping each other?”

George, who has previously participated independently in NaNoWriMo, said those who received Volumes’ newsletter sent out in early August signed up to contribute as well as store workers.

George said writers who have books sold at Volumes jumped at the opportunity to participate. Mary Robinette Kowal, a Hugo award-winning author for “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” “Writing Excuses” and “For Want of a Nail,” filled in and wrote Chapter Five after another participant got sick.

After crowdsourcing for ideas, George said magical realism was selected as the genre of choice, and she kicked off the first chapter. The story revolves around a large apartment building and the people who live in it. Every day a new person comes into Volumes to write a new chapter and can read the other chapters on the store website.

Matthew Horn, a former Chicago resident visiting from Madison, Wisconsin who is a fan of the bookstore said he has not stopped reading since he was a child. Eventually, that led to studying English and creative writing.

“[Writing] is a process that you are not really in control of,” Horn said. “Even the author [of a book] is not aware of where it all comes from. There is a beautiful aspect to [writing] in that way.”

According to the Volumes website, the final product of about 25 chapters will be published and sold at the store during a release party early next year.

“[I thought], let’s do it to a point where it does not get too bonkers and loses itself too much,” George said. “It takes a little stress off instead of having one protagonist.”

George, who was an English teacher for many years before taking ownership of Volumes,  added that there is a wide age range participating, including full-time “grind workers” who typically write on the side, and local students.

“This is a good opportunity for them to create a day where they just write,” George said.