NaNoWriMo? No Problemo

By: Tina Li

Do you aspire to be a budding novelist?

If so, consider partaking in NaNoWriMo next November.

NaNoWriMo, known as National Novel Writing Month, is an annual, free creative writing project that was founded by Chris Baty, which came to life in July 1999 (it was moved to November afterwards) in San Francisco. 21 people took part in the project at the time.

The objective of NaNoWriMo is to write a new 50 thousand word novel (approximately 175 pages) during the course of one month. That’s the equivalent to writing roughly 1700 words per day; participants may exceed the word count since the 50 thousand word requirement is merely a breaking point. You decide how you would like to write out the text (I typed), and you can update your total word count online as many times as you want. The novel can be of any genre, any language, and pretty much any format (including fanfiction—thus, if you didn’t like the way Twilight was resolved, feel free to pen an alternate ending.)

To clarify, no, you cannot repeat one word 50 thousand times and call it a novel (this is where the verification part kicks in), nor should you write the novel three months in advance (that kind of defeats the whole purpose, really).

If you find that you have completed  a 50 thousand word novel at a month’s end, you can submit your novel to the website (for verification purposes), and be officially declared a winner. If you have a manuscript, meaning that you handwrote your novel, there is a different way of submitting it (it is further elaborated on the website). There is no monetary prize to be won, but you do get quite a bit of self-satisfaction, and, of course, a neat certificate.

In 2008, 119,000 people were in the pursuit to complete a novel. In 2009, NaNoWriMo attracted nearly 170,000 participants and thirty thousand were declared as official winners.  In total, the word count of all the participants exceeded 2.4 billion.

NaNoWriMo allows participants to stretch the limits of their imagination and feel the real-world pressure of having a deadline. NaNoWriMo provided me with a great opportunity to write everything I’ve always wanted to write, but had no reason to.

This being my first year participating, I struggled with developing a plot for my novel. I didn’t know what to write about and even if I did, I thought, how the hell would I be able to write 50 thousand words without sounding overtly repetitive.? And so, I was thrust into no man’s land, unaware of my surroundings.

On the website, you can personalize your profile and share excerpts of your novel and tidbits of information with other users. When your word count exceeds 50 thousand, your user name will be associated with a halo badge, symbolizing that you have reached the finish line.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re not alone. There are over 500 recognized NaNoWriMo regions across the globe (which you can affiliate yourself with when you register) and nearly 600 municipal liaisons. Municipal liaisons are volunteers who overlook their respective region, organize write-ins and meet-ups, and answer questions.  Beyond this, you can provide input about your novel and opinions in forums. Each region has its own forum. Forums vary from pertaining to different novel genres to forums for different age groups to everything else, even stuff that’s not related to books. Teens can chill and talk about life besides NaNoWriMo. Not only do forums and communities make users feel connected to one another, but you can also converse with your peers about how NaNoWriMo is lambasting your social life.  For these reasons, the number of participants in this program is increasing every year.

There’s a great support system as well: NaNoWriMo organizers send out newsletters and updates through weekly emails. The contents of these emails range from canvassing for donations (which go toward The Office of Letters and Light, the coordinator of this project) to pep talks that are geared towards those who are feeling fainéant. One email was even written by a New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black, who penned The Spiderwick Chronicles. In the email, a piece of advice that she had to offer was:

“Write for your reader self, not your writer self.  …Write [as if] you were the [one reading the book].”

From the get-go, though I personally never intended to quit (I wanted to see this through until the very end), I found renewed motivation from users who had more experience with the program nonetheless.

Of course, NaNoWriMo may not interest for everyone. Some will simply be too busy to complete the daunting task of writing a novel. But for those who are willing to spare an hour or two a day, and are looking for a challenge, it is worthwhile to check it out.

And although there are a limited number of winners, every participant knows that the true reward is the experience of stimulating our creative minds.