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NaNoWriMo wants you to write a novel this November

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is well underway with the aim of helping aspiring novelists craft a full-length novel in just thirty days. Since its 1999 debut, the annual event has seen tremendous growth. Now, it offers advice, support, graphs and tools to plan your progress, and a wide community of fellow writers around the world.

Held every year, NaNoWriMo assigns a target of 50,000 words for the month of November, at an average of 1,667 words per day. This can either amount to a complete 50,000-word novel, or the first 50,000 words of a larger project. While such a large daily goal may seem to value quantity over quality, the emphasis is on producing every day and forming the writing habits necessary to craft a fully-formed novel. The NaNoWriMo site asks users to add their daily totals to the site, tracking their progress, telling participants how much they’ll need to write each day to reach their goals and when they can expect to finish at their current rate.

NaNoWriMo pushes writers to get past the ever-daunting blank page.

There are forums sub-divided by region where writers can give advice or share their stress and there are often arranged events for writers to gather in person. Additionally, digital badges assigned at certain benchmarks to give participants a sense of their progress. Those who hit the 50,000-word mark within the month are declared “winners”, though there’s no tangible prize for finishing first and the honour system is used, trusting writers to give honest word counts.

The big question is, how effective is all of this? Does NaNoWriMo give writers an attainable goal or does it simply add another layer of stress to the already daunting challenge of writing a novel? Well, the proof would seem to be in the pudding. Starting in July of 1999, NaNoWriMo had just 21 participants in its first year and was apparently intended to be a once-off event. The following year, it moved to November and by 2001 there were 5,000 participants. Now, hundreds of thousands of participants take part each year and, despite its name, NaNoWriMo has become a truly global event. In 2015, over 40,000 writers reportedly met their goals within the thirty-day limit.

Of course, not every 50,000-word draft becomes a published novel and not every novel succeeds, but NaNoWriMo has produced its share of success stories. The 2006 novel Water for Elephants was written by Sara Gruen as part of NaNoWriMo. It was on the New York Time Best Seller list for 12 weeks and was adapted into a film in 2011. Hugh Howey’s novel Wool also became a NaNoWriMo best-seller and Marissa Meyer turned several NaNoWriMo books into the Lunar Chronicles book series.

Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants as a NaNoWriMo project.

So what makes for a successful NaNoWriMo? Well, according to the event’s founder, Chris Baty, the key to understanding your novel is to write it first. Rather than needing the first draft to be perfect, it’s more important to give it shape. A half-baked novel on the page is worth more than the most refined idea that hasn’t yet been put into words. To this end, the NaNoWriMo website offers year-round support, as well as other events focused on rewriting and editing in January and February. There are seminars and tips from experienced and successful authors and, as always, there’s the growing community of writers going through the same frustration and heartbreak of trying to find their novel somewhere in a mire of words they typed out.

To put it simply, NaNoWriMo isn’t intended to produce a fully finished, perfectly crafted novel in a month. It’s there to produce a clumsy, clunky, rushed novel in a month, and that gives you something to work on. NaNoWriMo gets the ball rolling and, hopefully, gives you 50,000 words that you can turn into the novel you’ve always wanted to write.

Ronan Daly

Ronan Daly is a staff writer for My Good Planet who specialises in Technology and Science. With a Masters Degree in English, and over a decade's experience as a teacher and writer, Ronan has brought a breezy, learned style to My Good Planet, making occasionally complex material accessible and understandable to all.