It’s almost here.
You may hear some intrepid writers talking about gearing up for the most intense and disciplined writing marathon event of the year. They may hint that you won’t see them much during November. They are preparing outlines, character sketches and plot arcs.
You might ask them what they are writing. They will correct you and say, “I’m not writing yet, I’m preparing.”
“For what?” you ask.
They grin and say “NaNoWriMo.”
You scratch your head.
November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day.
It’s an insane idea, but one that since 1999 has enticed aspiring writers, lawyers, fashion designers, clerks, nurses and graduate students to put their fingers, friends and nerves to the test to produce a first draft of a novel. The only rule is that the writer must begin writing his or her potential novel on Nov 1 with new material. A writer can outline as much as he or she wishes beforehand, but they must do the actual writing during Nov. 1-30. No old projects welcome. NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild and fast writing.
On Nov. 30, participants upload their draft to the nonprofit (of the same name as the event), the staff validates the word count and participants who reach 50,000 words “win” an official certificate, and of course bragging rights. NaNoWriMo runs on an honor system. To participate is free though NaNoWriMo has attracted a number of sponsors include CreateSpace, Storyist and Scrivener and some publishing houses that also offer additional goodies for winners.
Sixteen years ago, in San Francisco, a group of 21 writers came together to challenge each to do ‘binge writing’ to see if they could produce a draft of a novel in a month. They could and had a lot of fun (and imbibed a lot of caffeine) while doing it. Thus a creative movement was born and a nonprofit created. The event has become a worldwide phenomenon. Last year, approximately half a million people across seven continents participated. This year 700 libraries, bookstores and other neighborhood spaces will partner with NaNoWriMo in the “Come Write In” program.
Of particular note is the organization’s commitment to fostering young writers. They sponsor the Young Writer’s Program (for writers 17 and under) that runs alongside NaNoWriMo where they reach tens of thousands of students and educators and also provide free classroom writing resources to kids around the world.
What’s a great way to get past the inner critic that tends to block so many aspiring writers? To write quickly. NaNoWriMo is definitely not about perfection. It is about pushing past limits, fears and the dreaded, ‘I can’t find time to write’.
Want to know the best way to poison someone? What a 17th century dagger looks like or how to get a scene to work? NaNoWriMo’s extensive website houses dozens of forums that encourage writers to share knowledge with each other.
When inspiration (and willpower) during the month flags, writers can check out the “Pep Talkers” section, where bestselling authors including Brandon Sanderson (“Mistborn”), Jim Butcher (“The Dresden Files”), and Kami Garcia (co-author of the “Beautiful Creatures” series) will provide encouragement.
Writers can connect face to face through ‘home regions’ with local moderators that help coordinate writing events. The Triangle has a particularly active region.
Of course, not everyone thinks NaNoWriMo is a good thing. Many editors now steel themselves for barely revised NaNoWrIMo inspired novels that clog their inbox through the month of December. Others in the writing community worry that NaNoWriMo downplays the importance of craft.
There are, however, a growing case of success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern and “The Darwin Elevator” by Jason Hough), short story collections and other kinds of publications.
But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words – any words down that then can turn into good words later.
I believe that NaNoWriMo creates more possibility and wonder about the written form over a 30-day period than at any other time during the year. I also believe that few writers, except the most inexperienced (or egotistical) would think that that having just crossed the finished 50,000 word finish line, their draft is now for publication.
NaNoWriMo taps into writers’ deepest desires for expression, intensity and community.
Michele Tracy Berger is a professor, writer and creativity coach. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org