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What is NaNoWriMo?

Miranda Peaco, Journalist

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In July 1999, twenty-one writers sat down in a coffee shop, put headphones in, and decided to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Their goal was not to start a program hundreds of thousands of writers would later join. In fact, their reasoning was the opposite: “We wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twenty-somethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn’t have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists.” They wrote 1,667 words a day and by 11:59 pm on July 31st, six of the twenty-one had reached 50,000 words, according to the website.

Chris Baty, the founder of the program, saw the potential their actions had created in “NaNoWriMo” after they had finished. “We called it noveling. And after the noveling ended on August 1, my sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed. If my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it.”

 

Baty changed National Novel Writing Month from July to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.” The second year, 140 people signed up from all over the world and 29 met the target wordcount. In 2001, there were 5000 participants and over 700 winners. Last year (2016) 384,126 writers took on the challenge and over 34,000 won.

 

Every person who takes part in NaNoWriMo has to sign up on the official website (www.nanowrimo.org) and make a profile. Participants are required to submit their entire body of work (manuscript) for word counting. “No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat,” Baty wrote. The text input recorder is focused more on length rather than quality.

 

The “Night of Writing Dangerously” occurs on November 19th this year. It has been described as a “mid-November extravaganza of food, drink, and lots and lots of noveling”. It’s held in San Francisco and the first 250 participants to donate $200 or more to the NaNoWriMo website receive reservations at the event.

Rules for NaNoWriMo participants:

-Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.

-No one is allowed to start early and finish 30 days from that start point.

-Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.

-Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1st  start date can go into the body of the novel.

-Participants’ novels can be on any theme, genre of fiction, and language. Everything from fanfiction, which uses trademarked characters, to novels in poem format, and metafiction is allowed; according to the website’s FAQ, “If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.”

-Anyone who reaches 50,000 words within the timeframe is a winner.

 

Following November is the “Now What?” stage. The stage where writers have a whole novel and no idea what to do with it.

To participate, writers must first make a commitment to revisit their novels. This includes signing a contract via NaNoWriMo. The next step is to attend the Internet seminars where publishing experts and NaNoWriMo novelists are available to advise writers on the next steps for their draft,” the NaNo team wrote.

 

“Since 2006, hundreds of novels first drafted during NaNoWriMo have been published,” the website says. There are even a few “best-seller” novels out there that earned a lot of noise including: Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, which was on the best-seller list for over a year; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern began as a 50,000 word mess in 2004 before Erin spiffed up the story and published it in 2011. The producers of Harry Potter snatched up the movie rights to “The Night Circus” because it was on the best-seller list and also received a lot of positive book reviews; And all three of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress (a trilogy) started out as NaNoWriMo projects.

 

50,000 words is a daunting thing to address oneself to. The Young Writers Program (YWP) is the same as NaNoWriMo, but for kindergarten to twelfth-grade students. Instead of 50,000 words, the goal for young writers is typically 30,000, but they are not held to that wordcount. In fact, they are encouraged to choose and pursue their own goals.

 

Another additional event NaNoWriMo hosts is Camp NaNoWriMo. The website says: “The Camp NaNoWriMo website does not have forums, but participants may choose to join a group of up to 11 writers, called a cabin. Each cabin has its own message board, visible only by members of that cabin. Camp NaNoWriMo participants may also choose their word count goal, similar to the Young Writers Program.” Their “About” page describes it as: “Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s retreat, designed for maximum flexibility and creativity. We have Camp sessions in both April and July, and we welcome word-count goals between 30 and 1,000,000.”

 

The most common reason people don’t reach their goal is because they don’t think their novel is good enough and put it on a shelf. Usually, this is because the writer did absolutely no planning and lost sight of the end-goal. As mentioned before: the text input recorder is focused more on length rather than quality, so that is helpful for writers to keep in mind.

Some writers out there view “NaNoWriMo” as silly and useless, but there’s no doubt that there are many benefits as well. It is common knowledge that writing a novel could take months or even years, but with a set deadline, writers are forced to write no matter how bad it is. Other benefits include: the habit of writing daily, mental strength, discipline, organizational skills, time management, greater confidence and self esteem, accountability, and of course the satisfaction and pride of finishing a novel. And even if one doesn’t finish, there’s always next year!

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