The aim of National Novel Writing Month is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, starting on 1st November and finishing (and validating the wordcount so the site can count you as a winner) by 30th November. There are no prizes beyond a sense of achievement, but NaNoWriMo is well-known for helping people kick-start their novel past the difficult first pages.
National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 with only 21 participants and it has grown ever since, becoming an internationally successful program with lots of school-based outreach. In 2013, over 400,000 people signed up to participate and more than 42,000 people successfully completed the goal of 50,000 words in a month.
While the definitions of ‘novel’ and ‘novella’ (a shorter piece of writing than a novel) vary massively, 50,000 words is considered by many to be the smallest number of words considered to pass as a novel (though most short novels are actually 60,000 or more). The Great Gatsby is 50,000 words long, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is just a bit shorter. 50,000 words is an achievable goal, even though it seems ridiculously huge to start with: it breaks down to 1,667 words per day. The philosophy of NaNoWriMo is to try and encourage people to write every single day, and those words suddenly start to pile up! Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, created the event to show that it is achievable to write a novel in a month, and while the breakneck speed means that it won’t be as polished as it might be if you spent more time on it, the Office of Letters and Light (who run NaNoWriMo) emphasise that the problem most people have in writing a novel is actually getting the words on paper. After all, you can’t edit a novel if you haven’t yet written it. It’s a chance to go from ‘someday I’m going to write a novel’ to ‘I’ve written a novel!’
NaNoWriMo gets a lot of flack for encouraging people to write quickly because it’s assumed that anything produced will be terrible. However, the point of telling people not to worry about quality is just that: they don’t get hung up on trying to make it as good as it can possibly be the first time around. It means that they power through the difficult bits, knowing they can edit them once they’ve finished the novel, and sometimes it can actually mean that you come up with plot twists and new ideas that you may not have otherwise.
They also run “Now What?” months in December and January, filled with tips on editing, polishing, or even moving on to your next writing project. They have an absolutely brilliant Frequently Asked Questions section on their site and forums where people can socialise, sympathise and procrastinate. The NaNoWriMo community is famous for being one of the most supportive around.
The Office of Letters and Light has a Young Writers Programme that runs at the same time as NaNoWriMo, which allows participants to set their own wordcount goals and is designed for writers who are 17 and under.
If you’re an aspiring writer, give it a try. Come 30th November, you might have a novel, but more importantly, you will almost certainly have written words that you might never have otherwise, be they 1000 or 50,000. I have taken part for eight years and, while I haven’t always managed to get to 50,000 words, I have always had a fantastic time.
If you are interested in NaNoWriMo…
Have a look at the NaNoWriMo website.
The NaNoWriMo FAQ.
If November is inconvenient or the word count is too daunting, there are two other events in April and July called Camp NaNoWriMo with flexible word count goals that also encourage scripts, poetry and other forms of writing.
We have lots of handy resources on creative writing in the Information Store, such as copies of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (BOOK ZONE 808.0205).
If you’ve always wanted to write but don’t know where to start, check out some of these helpful titles: The Creative Writing Coursebook, edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs (BOOK ZONE 808.042), Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (BOOK ZONE 808.042) and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (BOOK ZONE 808.042). Also check our reviews of Writing Down the Bones and On Writing.