"No Plot? No Problem!"

Participatory project created by Oakland, California, writer Chris Baty. Participants in NaNoWriMo begin writing November 1. Their goal is to write a 175 page (50,000 word) novel by midnight, November 30. Why would anyone try to write a novel in 30 days? As Mr. Baty says:

The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from your novel at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

There are no judges. There is no mechanism for publication. There is no critical feedback in a supportive environment. There is only the drive to write a novel.

Of course, this is going to put a serious dent in my noding for the month of November.

More info: http://www.nanowrimo.com/

Nanowrimo 1999 had 21 participants, of whom 6 completed novels. Nanowrimo 2000 had 140 participants and 21 finishers. Nanowrimo 2001 was announced on MetaFilter, and from the Blog community the meme spread to the Los Angles Times, the Washington Post, and NPR's All Things Considered. Over 5000 people signed up, which was at first exciting, then painful (Baty hand-codes the Web site that lists participants), then very expensive (as Baty's web host informed him he was exceeding his allocated bandwidth by a factor of five). 2001 would see the NaNoWriMo site hacked, pirate t-shirts, grant rejections, a proliferation of online support groups, spin-off copycat contests, Baty's credit cards maxed out, and ultimately, 700 finishers (on the honor system-- Baty had to back out of his pledge to do word counts himself).


In 2002, Baty found help. Developer Dan Sanderson managed to code automated sign up systems, word counters, and winner announcements, customized forums, allowing 14,000 participants to join in the challenge. Rather than relying on PayPal to raise voluntary contributions (which had raised pitiful amounts in 2001), t-shirt sales were plentiful enough to cover expenses for 2002.

For 2003, Baty encouraged more fans to become Municipal Liaisons, to lead the novel writing encouragement needed on a wider regional basis. 25,000 people were involved in the fifth annual challenge. Baty investigated starting a non-profit organization, but found the requirements burdensome. Instead, he decided to continue, on a for-profit basis, but donate profits to charity.


The sixth NaNoWriMo, in 2004, had 42,000 participants. Through a combination of t-shirt sales and donations, Baty aimed to cover the $46,000 in expenses it takes to run the project. 50% of the profits were donated to Room to Read, a charity that used the funds ($7000) to build libraries in Cambodia. The rest of the profits were used to pay staff.

Over 59,000 participants signed up in 2005, and Baty was able to create a nonprofit 501c3 organization to support the contest, which meant that donations to the project could be tax deductible. In 2006, over 79,000 would be novelists signed up, and 2007 saw 101,510 participants attempted to write a novel in just one month.

Chris Baty. "A History of NaNoWriMo." National Novel Writing Month Web site. 2004. <http://www.nanowrimo.org/modules/cjaycontent/index.php?id=4> (3 February 2005)

--. "Media Kit." National Novel Writing Month Web site. 2008. <http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/mediakit> (16 September 2008)

Kara Platoni, "It Was a Dark and Stormy Month...," East Bay Express, 19 December 2001, <http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2001-12-19/feature.html/1/index.html> (3 February 2005)

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a grass-roots effort to encourage people to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. It was started by Bay Area resident Chris Baty a feel-good excercise and not an avenue to getting published. As Baty states in the NaNoWriMo FAQ, "My ties to the publishing world end at Kinko's."

Already, many of you are rolling your eyes and reaching for the downvote button, thinking "Man, another squishy-feely California happening. Kill me now." But there's a serious hidden agenda here for some writers: As many of you know from being here on E2, writing gets better with practice. The only way to get good is to write every day, no matter how awful the results are. NaNoWriMo forces you to get in the habit, which is the first step any novelist must take (note that in 2000, only 29 of the 140 participants completed 50,000 words).

Let's face it: millions and millions of folks have always wanted to write a novel but never managed to do it. Life is full of things little and big that get in the way of dreams. NaNoWriMo was created as a way to force yourself to give the novel some time, too.

You can also get a little peer review when you're done. Your novel is thrown into the stack with dozens of other wannabes, all of you turning a sympathetic ear to each other's efforts, and clapping one another on the back for finally getting something done.

You don't have to be a Bay Area resident to participate, although it helps because you can be in on the drinking sessions that they hold in October and December. But novels from anywhere are accepted -- in fact, they're hoping to make the name a misnomer by receiving work from outside the United States.

Think of it this way (paraphrasing Bay Area columnist Beth Lisick): Considering the number of bands using CD burners to churn out crappy music, doesn't your novel deserve to get out there, too?

More info: http://www.nanowrimo.com/

National Novel Writing Month, like most everything else, has some vocal detractors; I am certainly not one of them. I know several professional writers who have used the encouraging support system of NaNoWriMo as a way to jump-start a new book or power through a work in progress. The fruits of their labors can be found in a bookstore near you.

But even if the average NaNoWriMo novel doesn't see professional publication, I think it's an entirely worthy endeavor. It cuts to the basic necessity of a writer: writing. It's time to stop making excuses and start writing that novel you've been talking about for years. And not just write it, finish it. Even if it sucks, you can say you finished a novel. And next time? It'll be better.

Even if an aspiring novelist becomes no better at his or her craft as a result of putting 50,000 new words on paper (and a total lack of craft improvement is hard to imagine, really) and becomes no wiser, he or she will surely come away with a taste of what it's like to labor as a professional writer. The awkward schedule juggling. The late coffee-fueled nights and sacrificed social calendar. Never discount the value of learning how to work creative productivity into your daily routine.

If a NaNoWriMo participant is lucky, he or she will experience couple of magical evenings when the words flow seemingly of their own accord and the story transcends all those story notes and character sketches and becomes something the writer never imagined being able to create.

And that's something we all live to write for.

As a respectful response to BookReader's writeup below ... the premise is not flawed. A working novelist may very well end up with a crazy deadline of having to write a novel from start to finish in less than two months. It happens. Midlist authors are frequently broke and freelance novel work is a feast-or-famine proposition. Authors get calls from their agent saying things like "Big Publisher has a gaming novelization that Big Name Author just bailed on ... can you write a book from this guy's outline? I'll email it to you. The completed novel is due in four weeks, and they'll pay you $10,000 on acceptance."

I've gotten that call, and I had to decline; I'd just started a new day job and didn't have time to drop everything and write. I still wonder "what if?" about that one. But if you are in a position to drop everything and write, and if you absolutely, positively need to make your rent that month, the correct thing to say to your agent is "Absolutely, yes, I can do that." Because if you can produce under those crazy deadlines, more work will assuredly be coming your way; if you punk out and fail, alas (and sorry about your professional reputation, buddy). And having been through NaNoWriMo a time or two is very good practice for this far-from-ideal but actual real-life deadline scenario.

I’m one of those vocal detractors and while I don’t want to argue too vehemently with Lucy-S, a published author who has written some books that I find absolutely smashing, I can’t agree with her on her opinion here about National Novel Writing Month. That is to say, I don’t mind that people do this, but I do find it extremely silly.

I’m a student at my state’s flagship university and I’m one of those chronic overachiever types who joins every student organization he comes across and I’ve managed to rise quite high up in a few of them. In nearly every single one is one student (usual female, though I have no idea why this is) who fires up his or her pens every time November rolls around. I watch them working on a laptop on their walls of text and they go pretty strong until around the 16th, when they still pull up that wall of text, but their typing has slowed down and they are not nearly as productive as before. Very few of them make it to the 20th.

What I’m reminded of most is a person who doesn’t regularly run saying, “All of November I’m going to run. I’m going to join this marathon!” And so they start out enthusiastically, but they’re not used to running and soon they’re out of breath. Yes, they want to be a writer, but I don’t think they know what effort is involved even from a first draft. They may also not understand that first drafts are almost universally shitty and they may find this nightmarishly depressing. These two factors stop most of them from completing their novels.

That’s fine, I suppose, because there are bound to be people who do benefit from this sort of thing. It’s a large world and I will not discount it, however, I would never participate in it. Let me tell you why.

I write constantly. I average a very unsteady word count a day, but it is a poor day when I can’t get out at least ten pages. I write in long hand for everything. All the writeups you have ever read by me started out as uneven and sloppy handwriting somewhere on college lined paper. I make sure that I always have some large project to work on consistently and if I-- for whatever reason-- can’t work on that project I will write stories, a few of which have appeared here. I also work for my school newspaper, am the head writer on an indie videogame (release date pending), and write what seems like an endless stream of papers for the bloody university.

For me, every month is write a novel month. I cannot stop writing and when I do, when I miss a day, I become uneasy. I begin to feel ill at mind as if I’m not contributing anything of worth, as if I’m wasting my time.

I am driven to write and I can’t see how somebody who doesn’t make time out of their day to write will benefit from setting aside only a month to write a novel, arguably the most advanced and structurally dependant form of prose our society currently possesses.

Isn’t it a little like creating a “National Symphony Composing Month”? Can you imagine all those people who would sit at their piano, or a computer keyboard, and try to write out sheet music for a hundred and thirty instruments? These people who haven’t even written for a single instrument yet?

I’d rather see a “National Short Story Writing Month”. This is an obtainable goal and if the participants work on their story for an entire month they might get something good.

Setting up an artificial time period to write is not going to help those who don’t write. It may help somebody who writes but is a chronic procrastinator, but I have my doubts about this too.

I think the entire premise is flawed from the start.

Seriously, buy her books:




National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun exercise for the professional writer as well as the dabbling beginning author wanna-be. The purpose of the event is not to hit 50K words, believe it or not. The real goal is to get people to start writing, to try to build up confidence, and to start a daily writing habit. That 50K word "goal" is just something more concrete for a beginning author to shoot for.

Personally, I think even writing one single word is a milestone since you're now one word closer towards the completion of your novel. You're further along than you were yesterday. It's the effort that matters, and that's where you should focus.

As of November 30, 2016, my total NaNoWriMo word count is 1,079,395 -- over a million words. Here are some of the tips I use to get ready for the month.

Know Your November Schedule

It's funny how many folks plan on participating in a month-long event without knowing what they're in for. A good example to start with is Thanksgiving for those folks in the United States. Many families travel across the country to visit relatives. You may be the visitor, or you may be the destination. Understanding that you will be focused on a huge dinner with ten visitors at your table all ready to critique your interpretation of Grandma's Super-Special Stuffing® will allow you to plan for no writing on the day before the holiday. For some crazy folks, going out the following day to battle crowds on Black Friday may be a tradition.

If you're in college, perhaps there's a major mid-term you will need to study for. Thinking about your day job, is there a huge project that will be due during November? You should take that into account.

Now that you have the major "distractions" identified, consider how many writing days you have left. Subtract two days for life emergencies. Now divide the number of days into 50K to see what your real daily writing goals are.

Start: 30 Days
-2 for emergencies
-3 for day job project
-1 for Black Friday sales
-2 for Thanksgiving dinner preparation and the ensuing coma from overeating
= 22 writing days

50,000 words / 22 days = 2273 words per writing day to "win" NaNoWriMo.

This is your real writing goal if you decide you'd like to reach that elusive fifty thousand word goal. If you work with this number in mind instead of the 1,667 words it says on the NaNo website, you will be better prepared to make it.

Prepare More Than One Project

I never have issues with writers block because I'm always working on multiple projects at one time. If the words won't flow for one of them, I understand my brain is working on something that needs to be solved before continuing. When that happens I can either switch to some other project or jump to a different section of the novel. For example, maybe I'm stuck with some aspect of worldbuilding and magic in a fantasy novel. Instead of just sitting there in front of a keyboard gathering dust, I can jump forward to where the protagonist runs across the fierce bandit ogre and defeats the beast, turning it into a loyal friend.

Then again, maybe that bit of magic is so important that I can't continue for now. No worries! Your brain will be stewing on that issue for a bit, so perhaps switch over to a space marine science fiction story and begin to write the next scene. Should the solution to your magical quandary present itself, feel free to save the sci-fi mid-battle and swap back to the fantasy.

I prepare six novels for every NaNoWriMo, all in different genres. Each one is plotted out using Scrivener, my preferred large project word processor. I also write a paragraph for each chapter describing what should be covered at a minimum. Don't worry! When the file is prepared, I check the total words and don't use them towards my November word count.

Don't Erase Stuff!

If I'm banging away on my keyboard and discover the last half of a chapter won't work because of a gaping plot hole, I never delete the words I've produced. Instead, I make a sub-page off of my chapter page and copy/paste the parts that don't work. I do this because those words do count unless you delete them. Never go backwards more than a single sentence. By hanging on to those homeless words, they will still count plus you may discover they actually work elsewhere in the novel. It's terribly frustrating to discover that you wrote the perfect two paragraphs but you nuked them...and now you can't remember the wording you used that made the two paragraphs stand out.

If it turns out that your saved snippets only help you once, you'll be ecstatic that you saved them.

Remember, It's a First Draft

This probably harms more authors than anything else. New authors in particular tend to see the perfect as the enemy of the good. They keep fiddling with a sentence to make it perfect instead of continuing on. It's a form of writers block, in my opinion, and it's self-inflicted. You must remember that NaNoWriMo doesn't mean National Perfectly Edited Final Draft Novel Writing Month. This is a sloppy, rough first draft. You will have plenty of time to run through it a few more times before you even think to bring in an editor, publisher, or to even self-publish. You must give yourself permission to suck and to write crap. It will be cleaned up and polished later!

Get the overall words down on the blasted page and move on. I always include extensive notes in my first drafts, such as {Research how long it would take for an iron chest to rust through in salt water.} I enclose those notes in brackets so I can just search for them and find the answers -- after November 30th. November is a writing month and not a research month. Focus!

Sometimes a new character will suddenly appear, forcing themselves into the novel and you have no say-so. Cool! Just add notes: {Bob will be joining the group as they march towards certain doom. Give him a background and a decent name.} Then move on. If you're spending an hour discovering the perfect name for your new character, stop wasting time. Call them Bob or Sally or James or Susan...something that won't really fit in the finished novel. You can do a search-and-replace later.

What If I Don't Wanna Write?

This does happen on occasion. Maybe those turkey leftovers are making you feel the tryptophan blahs. If this happens, go back and see what you need to research. Google those strange subjects that make law enforcement and the CIA think you're a serial murderer who believes in magic and loves outer space. Then take paraphrased notes (by typing, not cut and paste!) and transfer them to your novel in square brackets. Yup, those words count. Most of the time you'll find something that sparks your brain to fight off the tryptophan and before you know it you're back to writing your novel.

But You Said Don't Research in November!

Yeah, I did. And when you find you're stuck and not building your word count, don't be shackled to some "rules" because...there are no rules when you're writing. Heck, you can even write using horrific grammar because this is only a first draft.

Now get your butt in that chair and start writing! Thanks for reading this post, and I hope you're set to give it a go on November 1st.  Best of luck!

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