National Novel Writing Month, called NaNoWriMo by its friends, is a novel-writing challenge as well as a novel writing challenge. You sign up during October, and start writing a novel (offline) on November 1st. You must finish and upload the file as a text file for an official word count by midnight, November 30. A word count of 50,000 or more gets you into the winners circle along with several thousand other persistent and sore-fingered writers.
Are you intimidated at the thought of writing 50,000 words in a month? That’s only 1700 words a day. For pete’s sake, this is the internet; we’re all writers! I write more than 1700 words a day just for IM, blog comments and email. If I channeled it all into NaNoWriMo, I’d be a winner!
The official site for NaNoWriMo is slow-moving until October 1 or so. Previous years participants chat with friends and plan their plots for the coming challenge. The doors open and the hordes of enthusiastic scriveners sign up for the new challenge.
Be sure to read the general and the technical FAQs, especially the part about the NaNoWriMo authors who went on to sell books to Berkely, Warner and other commercial publishers. That’s the kind of publishers that pay 4-figure advances and advertise your book for you.
There is no entry fee, but donations are accepted to defray the cost of the internet hosting and administration. NaNoWriMo splits the donations with with the children’s nonprofit literacy organization Room to Read. In 2004, Room to Read built three libraries in Cambodia from money raised by NaNoWriMo.
There have been seven NaNoWriMo challenges to date, and the growth is amazing.
1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5000 particpants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9769 winners.
The founder and director, Chris Baty, frankly confesses that the motives for the first challenge were … uh … not exactly literary. “We wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings 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.” It was all about the chicks and the glory.
Now “For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.” So it’s still about the glory of finishing a novel.