November is one of those months where not much happens. There’s no school holidays, Christmas panic has yet to kick in, and even the solemn Remembrance Day is a quiet day of reflection. The weather is getting hot but it’s not the scorching heat of mid-summer, and the days grow ever longer. It’s a quiet month and so the perfect time to do some writing. Introducing the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short).
The concept was coined at the turn of the century by a man named Chris Baty in San Francisco and consisted of 20 participants. Baty had flipped through one of the shorter novels on his bookshelf (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley) and after taking an approximate word count, set the target of the challenge to be 50,000 words written over the course of the month. 6 of the 21 participants met the target and word of their accomplishment began to spread.
The following year saw 140 people taking part, which grew to 5000 by the third year. With the ever increasing number of participants, Baty and his cohorts raced to stay ahead of the game, hiring staff and changing platforms. In 2005 they partnered with Room To Read and donated $43,000 to build libraries for children in South-East Asia. By 2006, with almost 80,000 participants, NaNoWriMo became a not-for-profit organisation.
The event has continued to grow, with participant numbers peaking in 2017 with just over 400,000 aspiring authors taking part. The basic premise hasn’t changed during the years – the target is still 50,000 words though for most, that’s only part of a novel (the average novel length being between 70-110K). With a daily target of 1667 words, it sounds more than achievable but of course, the challenge lies in being able to sit down and write consistently day in, day out for all 30 days. If you do ‘win’, a lot of those 50,000 words will be utter rubbish, cut or changed during editing. That’s irrelevant however – the point is to get words down on the page and flex those creative muscles.
Being the biggest community writing event in the world attracts talent and many authors have been discovered due to it. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, and The God Patent by Ransom Stephens are all novels written during NaNo. Famous authors such as Neil Gaiman, James Patterson, Diana Gabaldon, Lemony Snicket, and Dean Koontz cheer participants along, giving pep talks and advice on the website.
I’ve personally participated in four NaNoWriMos and despite being extremely challenging, I’ve found them motivating and fun. If you have ever wanted to write your personal or family history, or a story that’s being rattling around in your head forever, it could be the push start that you need.