Categorized | For the love of writing

Do you NaNoWriMo?

Posted on 31 October 2011 by Alice

Back in 1999, Chris Baty had a ‘silly idea’ and convinced 20 of his friends to try and write a whole novel in a month. Today, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has spread across the world, tempting writers with itchy fingers to take on the crazy challenge.

NaNoWriMo countdown!

NaNoWriMo is also happening in the Middle East – including Dubai – where novelists are set to meet up for support during the challenge, pick each others’ brains and discuss the impending deadline. NaNoWriMo is November, and so starts tomorrow…

Are you crazy enough to take part?

Writing an entire novel in one month requires writers to pen approximately 1,667 words a day. That’s not that much, if you think it might only take a professional writer an hour to complete. Write for one hour a day – that sounds easy, doesn’t it?

Here’s some more info, if you are still thinking of signing up…

A book in a month

By Alice Johnson, Staff Writer

Originally Published 6 August 2010, in Gulf News

NaNoWriMo teaches the art and joy of writing within a taut deadline

How long does it take to write a book? One week or six weeks, one year or six years, ten years or 60 years? For Rebecca Skloot, the research and finding her subjects’ family for her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, it was ten years. For Karl Marlantes and Matterhorn, it was 30.

For everyone taking part in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, it is going to be one month and one month only.

NaNoWriMo describes itself as “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon”. And it is just that. Participants signing up for the project are tasked with writing a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and 30. That is approximately 1,667 words a day.

“It’s a creative thrill like no other and a wonderfully fun workout for your imagination,” Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, told Weekend Review from the United States.

“I think NaNoWriMo also helps book-lovers appreciate and understand the novels they read on a much deeper level. Once you’ve written a book, you’ll never read the same way again. That’s exciting,” he said.

Banking on a ‘silly idea’

Baty had a “kind of silly idea” to make his friends write a novel in a month back in 1999, managing to convince 20 people to do so in the San Francisco Bay area.

None of them had much fiction-writing experience and they were pretty sure the books would be absolutely horrible, Baty said. They were actually surprised at the results.

“Somehow, writing on a crazy deadline with zero expectations helped us turn off our nit-picky inner editors, enjoy the creative process and actually write reasonably OK novels.”

Meeting up after work and writing in the same room made the first NaNoWriMo-ers’ novel writing a social activity, helping them get more writing done. “It was strange but true,” Baty said.

The next year, 140 signed up. The year after, 5,000 signed up and since then it has snowballed. Last year, NaNoWriMo had 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners, officially logging 2,427,190,537 words.

“Winners” are those who manage to complete a novel in more than 50,000 words in the timeframe.

There is no monetary reward.

“[T]he biggest prize is the manuscript itself,” Baty said. “Winners do get a nice certificate, some great web badges and eternal bragging rights.”

One of the main aims of the non-profit scheme, run by the Office of Letters and Light, is to keep writers writing, preventing them from editing as they go — in some respects helping them finish a project without wasting time on editing as they go.

“I’ve come to believe the edit-each-paragraph-as-you-go approach doesn’t work very well with something as large as a novel.

“Novels tend to change and evolve quite a bit as you write them. What begins as a modern-day courtroom drama may end up as a vampire romance. You really don’t know what your novel is about until you’ve actually written it,” Baty said.

However, NaNoWriMo isn’t just about writing novels for fun, as many participants have been published. Elizabeth Hegarty published Salt River, which she wrote during one NaNoWriMo.

For Hegarty, it was difficult to rise at 6am and write for an hour before getting ready for work, then at lunchtime, then in the evening when the children had gone to bed.

However, she said: “You can’t let those characters and that story leave your head even for a day. You have

to inhabit them constantly.

“So they become very real and present and it’s easy to keep a firm grip on your pacing, how all your characters are feeling and interacting, your authorial voice — all those things that can waver if you’re working in a less intense way.”

Hegarty has now taken part in NaNoWriMo four times. The first was in 2004.

That year, she printed out a quote from the NaNoWriMo website and stuck it on her monitor as a reminder to herself: “You’re going to be producing a lot and some of it will be good but some of it won’t and that’s OK. Don’t stop. Keep moving. Just produce.”

“NaNo taught me to just keep going,” Hegarty said.

NaNoWriMo also encourages writers to meet each other and socialise at organised meets across the US and the world. Participants from more than 90 countries around the world have taken part.

From monks in India to schoolchildren in Sweden and even famous actors writing from their trailers on the sets of Hollywood films, NaNoWriMo has attracted old and young, experienced and inexperienced writers.

Rachel Thornhill, member of online forum, Writer’s Digest, is taking part in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. She is planning to write a novel based on the Salem witch trials and will conduct research during October, based on the advice of other NaNoWriMo-ers.

“I believe it [NaNoWriMo] gives many writers goals they normally do not set for themselves.

“I know I need that extra motivation to get a novel written,” she said via the online forum.

“I hope to gain a draft of a manuscript. I have not finished my first novel but I think it is all due to lack of motivation. … I’ve noticed that if I have goals set for me and am given a deadline, I can push myself to write and finish on time,” she said.

C.R. Lanei, another member, has also signed up for her first NaNoWriMo.

“My hope is to use NaNoWriMo to push me out of my comfort zone by introducing the pressure of a deadline and a word count.

“That’s my primary goal. If I get a first draft, all the better,” she said.

NaNoWriMo has been criticised for “mocking ‘real’ novelists and demeaning literature by encouraging people to write a book in a month”, Baty said, “which isn’t our intention at all”.

However, renowned authors who spoke to Weekend Review said quite the opposite.

Chris Cleave wrote his first novel Incendiary in six weeks. The book was later made into a film with Michelle Williams and Ewan MacGregor.

“I’m a huge admirer of NaNoWriMo,” he said from England.

Of Incendiary, he said: “I went into a room with a coffee machine and a laptop and came out with a manuscript and a beard — and I’m a believer in the absolute immersion in your theme that such an intensive writing schedule brings.”

Cleave said he respects everyone who has finished a novel, as writing is a solitary and singular journey that takes you to a better place.

“Sometimes the novel itself will be good and sometimes it must be discarded as the main fuel tank of the space shuttle is discarded shortly before orbit is attained — not because the tank was useless but because it has done the job of getting you to a place from which you can see Earth more clearly,” he said.

Vikas Swarup, author of Q&A (later made into Slumdog Millionaire), said NaNoWriMo sounds like something he might have enjoyed. Q&A was completed in two months.

“I think the limitation of finishing a novel within one month helps focus writers’ minds and sometimes the flow that you get in a first draft is missing in the rewrites. I didn’t do any rewrites at all,” he said. Amazingly, the published Q&A was Swarup’s first and only draft.

Tim Butcher, novelist and former newspaper journalist, travelled through the Congo, writing about his experiences in Blood River.

Evidently, this is vastly different to sitting down at a computer for a month, bashing out 50,000 words of fiction.

He said: “What a great idea this is, one that is based on teaching writers the greatest but toughest virtue — discipline.”

Although Butcher doesn’t feel it will necessarily create great novels, “it will create better novelists simply by instilling the virtue of ‘getting on with it’.”

“Fifty thousand words in a month is a tough deadline but many people write better when under serious deadline pressure. I know I do!” Butcher said.

For Baty, having an absurd, task-mastering deadline breaks the long, terrifying journey of book-writing into manageable steps.

“Writing a novel is hard. Writing 1,667 words a day for 30 days is not,” Baty said.

Cleave perhaps conceptualises it most eloquently: “Writing a novel in a month makes you a novelist. Ripping it up and starting again makes you an artist.”

Funding the next generation of writers

There is no charge to enter NaNoWriMo as the scheme is non-profit, run by the Office of Letters and Light from its Berkley, California, office. It relies on donations and the proceeds of merchandise sales to pay for everything.

However, NaNoWriMo-ers can gain sponsorship, which goes towards funding the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Programme in more than 75 libraries, 1,200 classrooms and 600 cities and towns.

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2 Responses to “Do you NaNoWriMo?”

  1. I’d never heard of this before! Wow. What happens to the manuscript once you finish; can you publish it? Can people view it on the website…how does that work? I’d be interested but not very confident of my novel writing skills yet :-/

    • Alice says:

      Devina – lots of people have been published after writing their novels during NaNoWriMo! Once you sign up, you enter your manuscript at regular intervals to have your word count officially registered.

      The idea is to encourage writers to just write – without going over what they’ve already written.

      You should just give it a go!