National Novel Writing Month has become an online phenomenon and chances are you’ve heard one of your aspiring author friends talk about it over the years.
To the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is an online writing challenge that encourages budding writers to write 50,000 words of an original novel during the month of November. The novel can be of any genre, any style — there are no restrictions on what you can write. You go to the website, nanowrimo.org, sign up and verify your word count as you write throughout the month. When you get to 50,000 words you are declared a winner. Your prize is an assortment of online badges, a printable certificate, bragging rights and a free proof copy of your book printed by CreateSpace.
The program started in 1999 when Chris Baty, a freelance writer and editor, decided to encourage 20 of his friends in the San Francisco Bay Area to write a complete novel during the month of July. In 2000, the month was moved to November and a website was launched. The goal was set to 50,000 and a new literary tradition was born.
“The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” Baty said in NaNoWriMo’s most recent press release. “When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both.”
Writing 50,000 words in one month seems like quite the daunting task, especially when November is term paper month, but the pressure to write such an excessive amount (1,667 words per day, to be precise) improves your writing skill in ways only writing for the Sheaf can.
NaNoWriMo is “an unbeatable way to get the first draft of a book written,” Baty said. “The 30-day deadline helps you be less precious about every sentence, and forces you to make writing a priority in a way that you just don’t without the external structure that comes from things like taking a class or taking part in NaNoWriMo.”
NaNoWriMo continues to get more popular every year, drawing in casual writers and aspiring authors alike. Between 1999 and 2010, the number of NaNoWriMo participants grew from 21 to over 200,000. That’s an impressive growth and NaNoWriMo expects even more participants this year, upwards of 250,000.
As the number of participants grew over the past decade, so did the program. In 2005, the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program was developed, aimed at getting grade school children writing and exploring their imaginations. The program comes with classroom kits for schoolteachers that structure writing plans for their students and make NaNoWriMo an event for an entire class to participate in.
In 2006, NaNoWriMo officially became a non-profit organization based out of Oakland, Calif. Known as the Office of Letters and Light, this organization serves a variety of functions such as maintaining the NaNoWriMo website, attracting funding and grants and running various writing programs. One such program is Script Frenzy, which encourages participants to write 100 pages of an original screenplay, teleplay or graphic novel during the month of April.
Numerous writers have found great success through the format that NaNoWriMo follows, with some novels written during this November challenge becoming bestsellers. The highest profile of these is Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, which was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a movie this past year starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.
So what are you waiting for? Ignore those term papers, midterms and various other commitments during the month of November and get writing. You won’t regret it.