“There's an old folk saying that goes: whenever you delete a
sentence from your NaNoWriMo novel, a NaNoWriMo angel
loses its wings and plummets, screaming, to the ground.
Where it will likely require medical attention.”
― Chris Baty
― Chris Baty
It’s October – the month where some writers thoughts turn to NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo was started by Chris Baty in 1999. Participants of NaNoWriMo (now an international internet-based programme) set out to write 50,000 words between 1st and the 30th November. You may, and many do, begin at midnight on the 1st and end just before midnight on the 30th. Although when it was started, there were only 21 participants, over 200,000 people sign up for now, a website is dedicated to it, and there are hundreds of NaNoWriMo events around the world.
These can include pre-NaNoWriMo picnics and parties, ‘plot-ins’, all-nighters and café writing. NaNoWriMo merchandise is available through the website and there’s a special programme for young writers. Municipal Liaisons help organise events in different regions.
What are the rules? Only that you submit 50,000 words by the 30th November – this can be done through the NaNoWriMo website – and the words can be scrambled or encrypted if you’re worried someone might steal your ideas/novel/novella. Everyone who submits that number of words is a ‘winner’. Winner of what, you might ask? The winners of NaNoWriMo receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on their webpage and inclusion on the list of NaNoWriMo winners. Since 2011, CreateSpace, a self-publishing production company has offered winners 5 free paperback proof copies of their manuscripts.
This is all hardly the point, of course. The point is that NaNoWriMo offers established, new and emerging writers the opportunity to sign a contract with themselves that over the month of November they will work put their writing before all else, work to a tight deadline and produce. NaNoWriMo gives a writer the opportunity to say it’s all about the quantity, never mind the quality. It offers liberation from perfection. It also offers writers a sense of community – you are participating in a world-wide writing event. You can, if you wish, meet other writers in real life or in cyber-life. You can participate in forums, whinge to writing buddies at the various writing events or you can stay at home, emerging in December, rough draft in hand. Or at least the beginning of a rough draft.
You can scoff at NaNoWriMo. You can ask what novels are only 50,000 words anyway? (The Great Gatsby is one and many novels for younger readers rock in at under that count…but you can still ask!) However, many writers find that they work well under the kind of perceived peer pressure or personal contract that is NaNoWriMo. And, despite the emphasis on quantity, not quality, publishable books emerge.
“It worked I think because misery loves company, and I knew that thousands and thousands of other people were out there beating their heads on their desks at the same time,” Sara Gruen interviewed by Lindsey Rivait.
Gruen is the author of Water for Elephants which she began as a NaNoWriMo novel. She wrote only 40,000 words and was not, therefore a NaNoWriMo winner. However, the book hit number 1 on the New York bestseller list, has sold over 3 million copies worldwide and is now a movie.
FanGirl by Rainbow Powell, declared ‘absolutely capitivating’ in Kirkus Review, is another novel that started life during NaNoWriMo. Powell is the author of the bestselling young adult novel, Eleanor & Park, also headed towards the movies. In a NaNoWriMoPep Talk, Powell says this:
I was very skeptical about NaNoWriMo at first.
It seemed like something that amateur writers would do. Or young writers. People who needed to be tricked into finishing their books. I’d already written two books by October 2011, and sold them to publishers, and I couldn’t imagine writing either of them—or anything good—in a month.
That’s not writing, I thought, that’s just piling up words.
But then I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a pile of 50,000 words…
Maybe some writers enjoy the first draft—the part of the writing process when anything is possible, and you’re out there forging your own path. I hate that part. All I can think about when I’m starting a book are all the words I haven’t written yet. I actually feel them, hanging around my neck, tugging at me. First drafts always make me feel anxious and a little desperate—like, “Oh God, I just need to get all of this out and on paper, so that I have something to work with.”
I like having something to work with.
You can join NaNoWriMo simply by registering on their website (linked to this Session). It’s free – although donations are welcome and there is merchandise if you feel you’d participate more fully wearing a NaNoWriMo t-shirt or drinking from a special coffee cup. There are events happening already around Melbourne, including plot-ins at Knox Library and Melbourne Central. There is also a new region – Gippsland and Baw Baw Shire, so if anyone is interested and from around Gippsland – you have a Municipal Liaison of your very own.