Autumn is loved particularly by writers: the smell of wood smoke, plastic Halloween decorations, warm chai lattes… and, of course, National Novel Writing Month. But if you’re new to writing, or have just been too embarrassed to ask — what exactly is NaNoWriMo? How do writers get involved? And what’s the deal with it, anyway?
NaNoWriMo: How it began
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, an event started by freelance writer Chris Baty in 1999. Seeking to bring together aspiring writers in the San Francisco Bay area, the annual event’s membership grew from just 21 participants in its inaugural year to over 500,000 last year.
Now, it’s a worldwide movement, uniting people all over the world with one mission: write 50,000 words by 11:59PM on November 30th.
The goal for NaNoWriMo is to get as many people writing as possible: it doesn’t matter if you’re already an accomplished novelist, or if you’ve never held a crayon in your life.
If you always wanted to try writing a book, think you’re too scared to start, need to make time or have a new idea — NaNoWriMo is for you.
Participants can sign up at any time of the year (October onwards is best to catch the buzz) via the official National Novel Writing Month website.
There, you can fill out a profile to tell the world about yourself: NaNoWriMo is a social event, with thousands of authors making new friends and giving each other advice and encouragement.
Get started, get writing
From October, you can announce your novel: give it a title, and a short description. Then, on November 1st, you start writing — and you don’t stop until you hit 50,000 words, or the chime of midnight on the last day of November (whichever comes first).
It’s up to you to update your ongoing word count on your NaNoWriMo profile, so don’t forget to check in after a long writing session. Plus, you get awarded badges for the milestones you hit and challenges you face!
After November 20th, if you’ve hit over 50,000 words, you can copy and paste the entire text of your novel into their word count validator to claim your status as a NaNo champion.
Making time to write
What can your novel be about? Anything. Can it be longer than 50,000 words? Absolutely — it’s not necessary to stop if you exceed the word count, it’s just there to help push you towards completing a full-length piece of work.
NaNoWriMo is all about getting started, making time for your love of writing and challenging yourself to hit a deadline.
Everything you write for NaNoWriMo is 100% yours — meaning you can go on and self-publish your novel, bin it, work on it some more or submit it to publishers or magazines.
The official NaNoWriMo website keeps a tally of how many novels have been published which started out as NaNoWriMo creations. To date, that’s 495 traditionally published, including The Long Fall by Julia Crouch, Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers and the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and many self-published. Read all about Julia Crouch’s life changing NaNoWriMo experience here.
Silence your inner writing critic
All in all, National Novel Writing Month is about challenging yourself to complete a major piece of work — it’s a fun and exciting challenge you’ll share with a truly worldwide movement.
The official website does state that you’re best off starting with an original idea for a novel rather than one you’ve already started, just because it’s more fun to start with a ‘clean slate’ and you can only count words you’ve written during the month of November (rewrites and edits can get messy).
Best of all, NaNoWriMo encourages you to write by silencing your inner critic: 50,000 words divided into just 30 days means a daily goal of 1,666 words. That’s quite a lot if you’re new to writing, out of practice, or suffer from writer’s block… so the best advice is always to let the words flow, even if you’ll go back and change them on December 2nd (after a well-deserved day off, of course).
The prize is finishing
Competition is friendly, as there’s no grand prize — you just get the huge ego boost of saying yeah, I wrote a novel in a month, a boost to your productivity, a writing habit that’ll carry you through Christmas (hopefully), and a pretty sweet winners’ badge for your NaNoWriMo profile.
National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit held every single year, with local events and clubs so you can meet up with writers in your own area. There’s also merchandise available to show off your commitment!
It’s right around the corner — so why not make this the year you win NaNoWriMo for the very first time? Get started here.