By Claire Mathieson
Today, people all over the world will take a seat at their computers and set out to write a 50,000-word novel before December arrives, armed only with their imaginations and a month’s supply of coffee. Some will prevail, charging above and beyond the word minimum. Some will lag behind, then make great strides to catch up by writing 15,000 words daily as November comes to a close. Many will fall, their desks stained with ink and caffeine as they bang their heads repeatedly against their keyboards, wondering how they ever could have agreed to undertake such madness. This phenomenon, known as National Novel Writing Month, is about to start for the 12th time, and you too could be a part of it.
In 1999, Chris Baty led 21 other San Francisco Bay Area-based participants in what would become National Novel Writing Month (known more commonly as NaNoWriMo, or simply NaNo). NaNoWriMo is now run by The Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Oakland, California. In 2010, the event had 200,000 participants world-wide, 30,000 of whom “won” by completing their novels within the November timeframe.
There is no limit to the number of writers who can win and anyone can join. For those that succeed, after they submit their novel for word-count validation, what happens to their novel is completely up to the writer. They can send their labored pages to a publishing house, use it to wallpaper their room, or feed it to their pet Chihuahua—anything goes. The writer also does not have to worry about anyone reading their work after they submit it online. If they choose, their novel can be encrypted so that only the word count is recorded by the NaNo site. According to NaNo’s site, the program is “all about quantity, not quality” (the goal is simply to write a 50,000 word novel by midnight on November 30th) and is designed for “everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.” There is no incentive or reward offered for finishing a novel, aside from a certificate, being placed on the “winner’s page,” and the personal satisfaction of having completed the challenge.
The event takes place all over the world and is, to an extent, divided into regional groups. Local moderators known as Municipal Liaisons (MLs) organize write-ins at restaurants and cafés where writers can meet up and type away together, commiserate, encourage, and bounce ideas off each other. While the write-ins are completely optional, they’re a great way to connect with other NaNo participants as well as provide you with a support group when you realize your plot has more holes than the average block of Swiss cheese, your characters have negative dimensions, or you suddenly feel as though your command of your native tongue is most comparable to that of a two-year-old.
NaNoWriMo is a month of stratospheric ups and bowels-of-hell downs, of great lines hidden among cringe-worthy pages, of expected frustrations and unexpected discoveries. Never written a word of fiction? No plot? Don’t worry about it. An image will become an idea, which will become a story, and one word will follow another until eventually you will have a novel. I can say from experience that there is no feeling greater than pushing through until it’s three in the morning, you still haven’t started your homework, your lamp burned out two hours ago, your wrist feels like it might desert the battle and you write the final sentence of your book. It’ll be by no means Shakespeare, but it’s entirely yours, which makes it a thousand times more valuable to you. When you press the “save” button, you won’t be able to stifle the grin that’s spread across your face, because you’ve finally done it. You’re a writer.
To join the speed noveling movement, simply go to NaNoWriMo’s site and create an account.
Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.