Grammarly Writer Shares NaNoWriMo Group Writing Experience

By Dianna Dilworth 

nanowrimoA group of team members at Grammarly, the online site dedicated to proofreading, set out to write a novel as a group during National Novel Writing Month. Some of the participants had been a part of NaNoWriMo before, but this was the first time any of the participants had worked on a group novel. The project was a success. Collectively, the team wrote 130,927 unedited words, almost three times the goal of the challenge’s 50,000 words.

GalleyCat caught up with Allison VanNest, head of communications at Grammarly, to discuss the process.

GC: Why did you decide to do a NaNoWriMo novel as a group?

AV: Many of us on the Grammarly team are – or have been – participants in National Novel Writing Month. It is a great mental exercise for participants who want to get into the habit of writing more frequently. However, life is busy. Some people are scared away from signing up for NaNoWriMo by the 50,000-word writing requirement. Although this is an attainable goal, we wanted to create an opportunity for writers to participate in NaNoWriMo that would not be so time-consuming.

GC: How did it work logistically? With only 30 days how did you manage everyone’s schedules?

AV: Grammarly set up a landing page to explain the project to potential participants and to invite writers to sign up. We were astounded, and extremely excited, to receive more than 750 volunteers. To make the writing process as democratic as possible, we ran two plot surveys (which received a more than 2,000 total responses) to help us narrow down the type of novel we would write. Through the survey responses, we learned that our group novel would be narrated in third-person. It would be an adventure novel that takes place in North America in the recent past. It would follow the story of an adult, female protagonist who slowly spirals down into darkness. However, with the help of a stranger, our protagonist would realize the error of her ways before it is too late, and she would avoid defeat.

With that in mind, the Grammarly team used some creative license to create a basic plot outline for 30 separate chapters. Due to the sheer number of participants in our group novel, we realized that writers would have to work on the chapters simultaneously; so, we assigned each writer a specific chapter and a specific day to contribute to the plotline in this chapter. Using Google Docs (a separate document for each chapter) and Facebook Groups (again, a separate group for each chapter), we encouraged writers to chat online about how they planned to move their chapter to its assigned conclusion. Each writer was allowed to write up to 800 words.

Separately, we ran contests on Facebook for participants, and others, to choose a name for the group novel and to design the cover.

GC: What did you learn about group writing projects along the way?

AV: This is the first group writing project of this length and magnitude, so the Grammarly team learned a lot about how to best organize writers and plot development for next year. However, what may be most interesting is feedback from actual participants in GrammoWriMo (taken from the Facebook Groups we created to facilitate conversation):

“I am enjoying reading what is being contributed by other writers and the planning of what I am going to write.” (Julie Davis)
“This was a huge experiment, and it was very cool to be part of it.” (Kristi Cox)
“I generally have a feel for the whole scene before I write it, and it’s generally 2-3k [words] or so. So it was definitely tough to write a small piece like 800 [words], and not be able to go for more!” (Elizabeth K. Writes)

GC: Now what? How do you plan to edit/pitch this novel?

AV: One of the most important parts of the writing process is editing and proofreading. December will be Grammarly’s time to shine as the world’s most accurate grammar checker. We’re planning to have a team of volunteer editors review each chapter for plot consistency, and then we’ll run the text through our own Grammarly Editor to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Once the book is ready, we plan to e-publish, at the very least, and donate the proceeds of any sales to a writing-related charity.