On Your Mark, Get Set, NaNoWriMo!
Why let your authors have all the fun? If you’ve been sitting on an idea for a novel, now is the time to do something about it—and fast. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, during which thousands of people will engage in "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon" and push themselves toward completing what seems, to some, an entirely unattainable goal. The premise is simple: Write one 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
Back in 2000, its year of inception, the event had just 21 participants and a measly 6 “winners”—those who reach the goal of committing 50,000 words to paper. Since then, NaNoWriMo has exploded; by the time 2011 rolled around, there were more than 250,000 participants and roughly 37,000 winners. NaNoWriMo has no judges, no prizes and nobody necessarily even reads the finished novels; in order to be a winner, you just have to get 50,000 words of fiction out of your brain and into a document. According to the rules, you are allowed to outline your novel as much as you want prior to November 1, as long as you don’t write anything that ends up in the novel itself.*
There aren’t that many rules, though, as NaNoWriMo is careful not to take itself too seriously; it’s designed to be fun. Events are planned throughout the month of November to allow participants to meet and mingle with other “wrimos” from their region. Write-ins are held in coffee shops, bookstores and libraries in more than 60 countries around the world. According to the NaNoWriMo website, in addition to providing ample amounts of motivational peer-pressure (“You only have how many words?”), these events allow participants to offer each other “encouragement, commiseration and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.”
NaNoWriMo is a good exercise for those who find themselves getting so hung up on perfecting every last sentence that they can’t seem to complete an entire novel. Lindsey Grant, NaNoWriMo’s Program Director, explains, “You can’t revise what isn’t written yet, right? This novel-in-a-month challenge is such a fantastic way to jump-start your story. Plus it is officially the most fun—and effective—way to shed the constant self-doubts and inner-criticisms and simply pour that story onto the page.”
However, just because the material is written quickly doesn’t mean it’s (necessarily) written poorly; more than 90 “NaNo-novels” have gone on to be published, including "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern and "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer, all #1 New York Times Bestsellers. So keep that in mind, publishers—if you receive a submission that began as a NaNoWriMo project, there’s always that chance you could have the next big thing on your hands.
NaNoWriMo starts today, so tighten up those outlines, stock up on tissues, and make sure you have plenty of coffee on hand, because for participants, this is a time of laughter, tears and lots and lots of words.
* But even if you do, don’t worry about it too much. You can still complete the challenge as part of the “Rebel” camp, a home for those who reach the 50,000-word goal, but bend a few rules to get there.