It took Jack Kerouc three weeks to draft his classic, On The Road. You might think that influenced the launch of The National Novel Writing Month. The event itself is a challenge: write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It’s the fourth day of NaNoWriteMo and things are going swimmingly. Novice and seasoned writers are rallying ’round the challenge. All it takes, for this endeavor, is the desire to write, a sense of adventure, and some discipline for time management. There are as many ways to write a novel as there are writers who have written one. NaNoWriteMo isn’t out to echo Kerouc’s three-week endeavor, though, “it’s about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces (the participants) to lower (their) expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”
Last year’s challenge drew 80-thousand participants. Not bad for a nine-year-old event, which boasted 21 competitors the first year. Started by Chris Baty as a local Bay Area event, NaNoWriMo continued to evolve and now draws challengers from the US and overseas. Writers can pursue any theme in any genre as long as it’s a “lengthy work of fiction.” The novel itself must be written during the contest window, though previously scripted notes are allowed. Writers can find tips, strategies, and fun online in forums, such as “plot doctoring”, “character plot and realism”, “role playing and communal story building”, and “games, diversions, and other exciting forms of diversion.” It doesn’t end there, NaNoWriMo communities can be found in many regions throughout the globe.
Rewards for the winners are more spiritual than material. Anyone reaching the 50-thousand word goal is a winner, though “the 50,000 word limit is a threshold, not necessarily a stopping place.” Participants can submit their novels five days before the contest’s close. Once the word count is verified, the electronic certificate is available for printing.
A number of participants provide updates on their progress with Twitter, a social networking service and Vox, a blog hosting service. Twitters from mwpetersen, living in Austin, TX, reports a current word count of 5,000 words; jen_b, a librarian from British Columbia, states that she is “writing while chatting and playing scrabble. I don’t know why this works, but it does.”; embereye, “a Brooklyn girl” from New York, says “I’m at 6155! Now to write another…oh…4k tomorrow! It’ll be great!”; cjnash, from Edmonton, Alberta, writes while going home on the bus. He provides more details on Vox, “I only managed to write 875 words yesterday. On the one hand, pretty cool. On the other hand, about half the daily amount I’ll need to finish with 50,000 by November 30.”
For those who think the writing is simply an exercise in discipline, a number of novels rose above the pile and have been published, including: Jessica Burkhart’s High Jumps at Collins Academy (Simon & Schuster), Lani Diane Rich’s Time Off for Good Behavior (Warner Books), David Niall Wilson’s The Mote in Andrea’s Eye (Five Star), Rebecca Agiewich’s BreakupBabe (Ballantine Books), Jon F. Merz’s The Destructor (Pinnacle Books), Francesca Segre’s Daughter of the Bride (Berkeley Books), Gayle Brandeis’ Self Storage (Ballantine Books), and, a New York Times best seller, Flying Changes by Sarah Gruen (HarperCollins).
More than 15-thousand kids and teenagers registered with the NaNoWriMo Young-Writers program in 2006. The Young Writers webpage offers games, exercises, and information for the younger writer. Classroom starter kits were created for teachers who wanted to have their class participate.
NaNoWriMo, a non-profit organization since last year, formed a partnership with Room to Read, a non-profit children’s literacy group, a few years back. Half of the net proceeds from 2004 and 2005 helped build libraries in Southeast Asia (three in Cambodia and seven in Laos.) The estimated budget for 2007 is approximately $195K. Donations from supporters and proceeds from the T-shirts, books, and other items sold at the store help defray costs.
Budding novelists can refer to Chris Baty’s two books for assistance year round, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing A novel in 30 Days and The No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit.