By Cathy Johnson
Need a project for the month? Want to join 350,000 of your “closest friends” in an endeavor? Well, here’s a good one, except you’re behind the eight-ball already. Sorry.
Every November for the last 18 years, thousands of writers and aspiring writers have taken the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. The task? Create a draft of a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. (See what I mean about being behind?)
It’s quite the picture, isn’t it? Each one of those novelists-to-be hunched over their keyboard for however long each day it takes to achieve their writing goal. And in case you are wondering, each writer needs to average 1,667 words per day, which in and of itself is not a massive amount of writing. The challenge is to have it add up to something, to tell a compelling and cohesive story, and, for many of the participants, the goal is to be published.
All of these aspiring novelists are not slaving away alone, that is unless they want to be. The NaNoWriMo nonprofit (NoNoWriMo.org) stands ready and willing to assist. There are word-counting apps to use, participation badges, writing prompts, pep-talks, on-line support and assistance and even in-person events, all to help make the would-be writers successful in their goal.
The movement itself was launched in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area by writer and teacher Chris Barty, whose books include “No Plot? No Problem” and “Ready, Set, Novel.” The first year had 21 participants. The second year brought a fledgling website and 140 participants. It also went international, as some of the members were from Canada and beyond. Year three? They expected maybe 150 participants; 5,000 “showed up.” You can read the full and detailed (and quite entertaining) history of the event on the website). The growing pains were evident. It became a 501(c)(3) in 2005.
One of the encouraging offshoots of NaNoWriMo is the number of young writers being supported. This year over 5,000 classrooms around the country have been provided workbooks and classroom materials. NaNoWriMo projects that up to 80,000 students and educators will participate.
So what is the success rate? Last year 384,126 participants, including 71,229 students and educators, started the month “as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.” And over the years, hundreds of NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” Erin Mongenstern’s “The Night Circus,” Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” and Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder.” Countless other novels have been self-published, much of which is detailed on the NaNoWriMo site.
Many writers take the challenge simply because it is a challenge and it sets a deadline, something many people function better with. Writing, like many other crafts and callings in life, requires endurance. Knowing that there is a finish line and acknowledging the need to get there is a huge part of being successful during NaNoWriMo. Write on!