From prose to pop songs

How a novel writing contest inspires artists of different types

Every November, Mark Pineo sits down at his computer and starts making an album of music. By the end of the month, it’s finished. 

In his own way, Pineo, an audio instructor in the University of King’s College’s journalism program, participates in a contest called National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as NaNoWriMo).  

Regularly, participants of the contest try to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Four years ago, inspired by this competition, Pineo challenged himself to make an entire album of music in a month.  

He’s done it every year since. 

He starts his process in late September to early October, playing out ideas on his guitar and saving the audio files to a folder on his computer. On Nov. 1, he opens the folder and listens to these “seeds” of ideas, picking ones that he wants to flesh out into full-length songs.  

In the weeks to follow he undergoes a process of quickly composing instrumentals. He then sends them off to his collaborators to make lyrics. His genres vary, but overall he classifies the songs as pop. 

Pineo isn’t the only one on campus engaging in this challenge. A group taking the more traditional route in their participation of NaNoWriMo is Dal Writes.  

Building worlds with words  

The new Dalhousie University society, created this year by computer science student Alex Sproul, is a creative writing group that focuses on worldbuilding for science fiction and fantasy writers. Sproul created the society because he was surprised that nothing like it existed already.  

This November, members of Dal Writes are planning to participate in the month-long novel-writing contest together.  

“I don’t actually expect everybody in Dal Writes to finish NaNoWriMo,” says Sproul. 

He realizes that as students, finishing a 50,000-word manuscript in one month is a big task. He simply wants writers to feel at the end of the month that they have the capabilities to write an entire novel. 

Sproul also wants the process to be enjoyable. He plans for the society to have write-a-thons and mini-contests throughout the month to make the process “collaborative” and “full of fun and communication.” 

The process  

In a Facebook message, Lamia MacKiewicz, a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Nova Scotia, told The Dalhousie Gazette that having this kind of community is helpful to her when she participates in the contest. 

“[The sense of community] does add pressure, but in a way that I find really motivating,” she says. 

Whenever MacKiewicz gets distracted or isn’t happy with the direction her novel is taking, she turns to the online NaNoWriMo community for encouragement.  

For Pineo, connecting with other participants for support isn’t exactly a part of his process. Although he collaborates with many artists for his songs, most of his time is spent alone in his room when he’s creating music.  

At the end of the month, Pineo always uploads his completed album online. It’s not the final product that matters to him, but the time spent making music that’s important, and the personal enjoyment that comes from it. This positive experience is why Pineo recommends the month-long challenge to artists of any style or background.  

“Any artist can do it, but they need to pick what gets them excited.” 

Pineo’s advice to other artists is to pursue that passion that excites them. He doesn’t think artists should get hung up on the process of making art, for the method is different for every person. It’s just a matter of sitting down and creating, and NaNoWriMo is a reason to do just that. 

“Find what lights you on fire,” he says, “and just chase it down.” 

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Tarini Fernando