Since 1999, writers from all across the globe have gathered together in a virtual clubhouse each November. For thirty days, each writer attempts to conquer one of the marathons of writing—the novel. Some have notebooks filled with plans and outlines to guide their storytelling; others fly by the seat of their pants. They talk about word counts and word wars. They discuss character names and plot twists. More than anything, they offer support to each other—word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter, reaching for the 50,000-word goal.
Once Upon a Time…
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is the brainchild of Chris Baty, a twenty-something without “anything better to do” (Baty). It took place in July 1999 near the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a challenge that he created for himself and his group of twenty friends. For a month, they sat around, eating junk food and consuming large amounts of caffeine. He admits that the novels weren’t great, but he had a blast writing. Moreover, Baty maintains that his sense of what was possible had been changed forever—“if my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it” (Baty). It was only the beginning.
“Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.”–the creators of NaNoWriMo (Writing)
2014 NaNoWriMo by the Numbers
- 325,142 participants, including 81,311 students and educators in the Young Writers Program
- 803 volunteer Municipal Liaisons guided 615 regions on six continents.
- 849 libraries, bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.
Rules? What Rules?
The organizers of NaNoWriMo believe that 50,000 is a “difficult but doable” goal—one that can be reached by people who have other obligations during the month as well. The rules get a little fuzzier at this point. Some participants might write novels. Others may write poems or screenplays. Some even venture into the world of fanfiction for their favorite movies or television shows. And still others write nonfiction–histories, theses, and dissertations. More than anything, it’s about putting words on the page. Basically, if you think you’re writing something novel-like, they’ll not disagree with you.
Simply put, participants are allowed to plan their novels in advance but cannot write a single word until 12:00am on November 1. They have until 11:59pm on November 30 to submit their completed works to the NaNoWriMo word validation program. If they meet the word count, they win. There is no limit to the number of winners allowed. Winners receive a certificate and the satisfaction of a job well done.
NaNoWriMo Winners Have Become Traditionally Published Authors
- Sara Gruen – Water for Elephants
- Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus
- Hugh Howey – Wool
- Rainbow Rowell – Fangirl
- Jason Hough – The Darwin Elevator
- Marissa Meyer – Cinder
Source – Nanowrimo.org
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…
Ok, that might be one of the worst opening lines ever, but don’t worry. Part of what makes NaNoWriMo successful is the supportive online community. They’ll help you navigate the writing waters.
The life of a writer can be quite solitary, and alleviating that is one of NaNoWriMo’s strengths. No matter where our heads take us, we’re still alone with a keyboard or a pen. However, during the month of November, more than 300,000 writers are joining you on this journey. These writers will support, encourage, socialize, and compete in order to push everyone closer to the goal.
The NaNoWriMo staff communicates with participants throughout the month of November, offering pep talks from published authors such as Stephanie Perkins, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, N. K. Jemisin, and Gene Luen Yang.
However, the support doesn’t end there. The main website supports a forum where participants can interact with each other. You can step into a forum for help with plot holes, character names, locations–if you need help with your story, there’s likely someone willing to help.
One of the more traveled areas of the NaNoWriMo site is the forum dedicated to “Word Wars.” Posters will indicate a start time and end time, letting others respond if they plan to participate. The writer with the highest word count (as indicated by their own admission) wins the competition. As Sarah E. Harris, assistant professor of English at Indiana University East, states, “while each writer is composing, or inventing, in isolation, the interactive nature of the game creates motivation to continue, as participants encourage one another to keep writing using textual markers of enthusiasm and support” (124).
And don’t be discouraged if you don’t hit the 50,000 word goal. Take heart from the tweet of the official NaNoWriMo Twitter account in November 2012: “As we enter the final minutes and hours of NaNo 2012, remember that it’s not always finishing that inspiring. Sometimes it’s starting” (Harris 125).
- The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
- The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centers, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighborhood.
- Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.
NaNoWriMo is only one of many online writing communities that have popped up online since the development of the Internet. It continues to grow as a community of support for both experienced and fledgling writers throughout the world, offering support word by word, line by line, and chapter by chapter each November. Until next year, NaNoWriMo!
Baty, Chris. “National Novel Writing Month.” National Novel Writing Month. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
“Can You Nanowrimo?.” Writing 28.6 (2006): 13. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
Harris, Sarah E. “From the Fictional to the Real: Creative Writing and the Reading Public.” The University of Arizona (2013). Web. 10 Oct. 2015.