National Novel Writing Month

18 Oct, 2004 | Written WordTdp

I'm not sure if you should class this as a challenge or a torture. Either way I'd certainly suggest it was masochistic. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it is known, is an idea started by Chris Baty. Now I'd never heard of it (it was Jason Kottke who linked to it), but reading some of the stories, this has been going since 1999 and has had overwhelming press coverage, so if this is old news, I apologise. For everyone else, the basic premise is thus: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, starting on 1st November and ending on midnight of the 30th. Last year, roughly 3500 of the 25,500 who entered made this landmark and earned themselves a place on the prestigious winners list. Overall, somewhere north of 6300 people have managed it, though some of these have taken part more than once. I'll say that again, some of those people have done this more than once! You see why I think this attracts masochists? Quality is unimportant, quantity is. You can go over 50,000, but certainly not under it.

Now, as someone who only seems to react to deadlines, I find this somewhat appealing. If it was just to write a 50,000 word novel, no, not interested, I'd never do it (I've got one I'm halfway through that I haven't looked at in the better part of a year). But, as the NaNoWriMo site says:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

Now 50,000 words sounds like a lot, it is a lot, but actually it's kinda small for a novel, having said that, to hit that limit in 30 days means writing, on average, about 1666 words a day. Trust me, that's a lot. I've read plenty of books on writers and authors and most try to achieve about 1000 words a day before giving up. And this is from people who do nothing else for a living. NaNoWriMo says that 50,000 has proven to be an achievable limit, even for people who work full-time though. And that's it's secret I think: the time limit. We can all put our lives on hold for a month, you can give up four weekends and not really have your life crumble, happily miss a months worth of TV and social events and not be called a hermit. If it was six months, well then it becomes far too impractical. Lots of people think that it would be nice to write a novel one day, but never get to it. With a reason and a deadline, you're forced into action. The tight schedule also has other benefits in that you have no time to sit and worry about your prose, or your style, you just create and, in my opinion, that spontaneity is very important and something that is lost the longer you think about it.

The good news is you are allowed to pre-plan for the event, so you can come up with your idea, a synopsis, an outline, whatever you want, you just can't start actually writing until 1st November. So, by all means nip out and buy new pencils, pens, a new laptop, a crate of lager or enough coffee to kill a small elephant, whatever you need to get you in writing mood.

Incidently, if you're having trouble thinking of a story, how to start or what to do, NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty has the answer: his book, compiled from all the tips and tricks Chris and the veterans have used over the years.

So, as you may have guessed, I'm pretty excited by the whole thing. Am I going to give it a go? You bet your ass I am. No idea what story yet (I'll have a trawl through my ideas pile), but I reckon it needs to be something fairly straight forward (there's no time for in-depth research or stopping to find out just how a forensic investigation progresses). If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. I doubt I'll be able to do 1666 words a day, but that's what weekends are for. I have to average about 12,500 words a week at least, with two days clean up before the deadline. The problem is, I tend to leave things to the last minute, so it'll probably be 12,500 for the first three weeks in total and 37,500 words in the last one. I don't doubt that planning is everything in this event.

NaNoWriMo isn't just about the writing though, there's a whole community to go with it, where you can organise to meet fellow Wrimos (as entrants are called) in your area, ask for advice and answers to technical questions or just to rant about how hard it is.

On a more serious note, NaNoWriMo is run by Chris and his team completely free, that means the project, the site, all the add-on communities, organisation, adjudication, certificates for winners, plus they try and raise money for libraries in Cambodia. Unfortunately, someone has to pay the bills, and they do that by asking for donations, so if you do take part (or if you're a generous soul), drop by and handover some cash, even a few dollars can help. And the cool thing is you get something for your donations. Donate over $1000 for example, and you get a phone call from Chris to see how your novel's coming! You can also buy NaNoWriMo branded goods.

So why should you enter the contest? Well, it could be to force that novel out of you, it could be for a bit of creative fun, it could be just to see if you can do it. Because, as JFK put it, sometimes we decide to do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. I think number 10 in the How NaNoWriMo Works (in Ten Easy Steps) sums it up perfectly:

10) Whether you win or lose, you rock for even trying.