National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo /ˈnænoʊ ˈraɪmoʊ/), is an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. Well-known authors write “pep-talks” to keep them motivated throughout the process. The website provides participants with tips for writer’s block, information on where local participants are meeting, and an online community of support. NaNoWriMo focuses on the length of a work rather than the quality, encouraging writers to finish their first draft so that it can later be edited at the author’s discretion. The project started in July 1999 with 21 participants, but by the 2010 event, over 200,000 people took part and wrote a total of over 2.8 billion words.
Writers wishing to participate first register on the project’s website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. Participants are called Wrimos. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. Municipal leaders and regional forums help connect local writers, holding writing events and providing encouragement.
Freelance writer Chris Baty started the project in July 1999 with 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2000, it was moved to November “to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.” and launched an official website, designed by a friend of Baty’s. That year 140 participants signed up for the event, including several from other countries. Baty launched a Yahoo! group to facilitate socialization between participants and, after the posters began asking about guidelines, he set most of the event’s basic ground rules: the novel must be new, cannot be co-authored, and must be submitted in time to be verified. Of the 140 participants, 29 completed the challenge as manually verified by Baty himself.
The following year, Baty expected similar numbers, but 5,000 participants registered, which he credits to news of the event being spread by bloggers and later being reported on by various news organizations including the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. Though Baty was happy with the large turnout and popularity of the event, it almost did not happen, as the website had a number of problems leading to participants being asked to post themselves as winners on an honor system; in the end, 700 people would do so.
2002 saw technical improvements and increased automation to the site and media attention from National Public Radio and CBS Evening News drew increased attention and a participant count of 14,000. The next year, the NaNoWriMo team began the Municipal Liaison program where volunteers could act as moderators in the forums as well as send out the first set of pep talk emails. Municipal Liaisons also acted as leaders for a specific region under their jurisdiction – organizing fundraisers and calling meetings for NaNoWriMo participants residing in their region. Baty also began work on “No Plot? No Problem!” during the 2003 NaNoWriMo, writing the NaNoWriMo guide concurrent with his own novel.
In 2005 NaNoWriMo was registered as a nonprofit organization due to the event growing strongly every year, which became the Office of Letters and Light.
In 2011, the NaNoWriMo website was given a new layout and forums. Baty announced that he would be stepping down as Executive Director in January 2012 to pursue a full-time writing career. Grant Faulkner took his position as Executive Director. The redesigned website moved from being based on Drupal to Ruby-on-Rails. During the first month after launch, the new website supported over 1,000,000 visitors and more than 39,000,000 pageviews.
By 2015, 431,626 people participated (633 different regions) in NaNoWriMo. Of those participants, more than 40,000 won.
Since NaNoWriMo is used to get people writing, the rules are kept broad and straightforward:
- Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.
- No one is allowed to start early and finish 30 days from that start point.
- Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
- Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
- Participants’ novels can be on any theme, genre of fiction, and language. Everything from fanfiction, which uses trademarked characters, to novels in poem format, and metafiction is allowed; according to the website’s FAQ, “If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.”
Winning and Prizes
To win NaNoWriMo, participants must write an average of approximately 1,667 words per day in November to reach the goal of 50,000 words written toward a novel. Organizers of the event say that the aim is to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. There is no fee to participate in NaNoWriMo; registration is only required for novel verification.
No official prizes are awarded for length, quality, or speed. Anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner. Beginning November 20, participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length and receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on the web, and inclusion on the list of winners. No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat. Novels are verified for word count by software, and may be scrambled or otherwise encrypted before being submitted for verification, although the software does not keep any other record of text input. It is possible to win without anyone other than the author ever seeing or reading the novel.
In October 2007, the self-publishing company CreateSpace teamed up with NaNoWriMo to begin offering winners a single free, paperback proof copy of their manuscripts, with the option to use the proof to then sell the novel on Amazon.com. In 2011, CreateSpace offered winners five free, paperback proof copies of their manuscripts. In addition to CreateSpace, each year NaNoWriMo has a new list of sponsors that reward winners and participants with various discounts and prizes.
The official forums provide a place for advice, information, criticism, support, and an opportunity for “collective procrastination.” The forums are available from the beginning of October, when signups for the year begin, until late September the following year, when they are archived and the database is wiped in preparation for that year’s NaNoWriMo forums to start up again.
Most regions have one or more Municipal Liaisons (ML) assigned to them, who are volunteers that help with organizing local events and mediate regional forums. MLs are encouraged to coordinate at least two kinds of meet-ups; a kickoff party, and a “Thank God It’s Over” party to celebrate successes and share novels. Kickoff parties are often held the weekend before November to give local writers a chance to meet and get geared up, although some are held on Halloween night past midnight so writers start writing in a community setting. Other events may be scheduled, including weekend meet-ups or overnight write-ins.
The Night of Writing Dangerously
In November 2007, NaNoWriMo hosted a fundraising Write-a-thon event called ‘The Night of Writing Dangerously’, held in San Francisco. The first 250 participants to donate at least $200 to the NaNoWriMo website receive reservations at this event. It has been described as a “mid-November extravaganza of food, drink, and lots and lots of noveling”.
As of 2016, participants must donate at least $300 to reserve a ticket for the annual event. From 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., hundreds of writers gather together in the Julia Morgan Ballroom to eat, chat, exchange excerpts, enter raffle contests, listen to speeches, meet the staff, and most importantly, write. Every hour or so, a 10–20 minute ‘word war’ is held in which the entire room falls almost completely silent with concentration, save for the sound of keystrokes. Whoever writes the most words in the allotted time frame is temporarily awarded the much-coveted flower pot hat. If a guest reaches the goal of 50,000 words while at the event, they are allowed to ring a bell kept at the stage, and receive much cheering. There are lots of sponsors for this event, many of which are the donors of most of the raffle prizes. In 2015, this fundraiser raised over $56,000.
Starting in 2002, NaNoWriMo ran a Laptop Loaner program for those who do not have regular access to a computer or word processor. Old, yet functional, laptops were donated from NaNoWriMo participants. Those wishing to borrow a laptop were required to cover the cost of shipping it back and must send a $300 deposit along with proof of identity, but are not charged a fee for using the laptops. In 2008, AlphaSmart, Inc. donated 25 brand-new Neos to expand the Laptop Loaner library. However, in 2009 the Laptop Loaners program ended before that year’s NaNoWriMo event.
Young Writers Program
In 2004, NaNoWriMo started the Young Writers Program (YWP), a writing workshop aimed to aid classrooms of kindergarten through 12th-grade students. The difference from the regular program and the YWP was that kids could choose how many words to try to write. The standard word count goal for a young writer is 30,000. In its inaugural year, the program was used in 150 classrooms and involved 4000 students. Teachers register their classroom for participation and are sent a starter kit of materials to use in the class which includes reward items like stickers and pencils. Lesson plans and writing ideas are also offered as resources to teachers, while students can communicate through the program’s forums. The only age restriction on the YWP is no one can be over 18; when a user turns 18, they are sent to the main site.
The Office of Letters and Light
In September 2006, NaNoWriMo officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operating under the name “The Office of Letters and Light”. All contributions are tax-deductible under U.S. law. Donations can be made directly, or users can purchase items such as T-shirts and mugs from the NaNoWriMo store. In 2004, NaNoWriMo partnered with child literacy non-profit Room to Read, and continued that partnership for three years. Fifty percent of net proceeds from 2004 to 2006 were used to build libraries in Southeast Asia; three were built in Cambodia, seven in Laos, and seven in Vietnam. The program was retired in 2007 to refocus resources on NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program.
A summer version of NaNoWriMo, called Camp NaNoWriMo, launched in 2011. Two sessions were held, one in July and one in August; however, the months were switched to June and August for Camp NaNoWriMo 2012. The two months were then switched to April and July for 2013 and 2014. The rules used for the main event in November also applied to each Camp NaNoWriMo session. The Camp NaNoWriMo website does not have forums, but participants may choose to join a group of up to 11 writers, called a cabin. Each cabin has its own message board, visible only by members of that cabin. Camp NaNoWriMo participants may also choose their word count goal, similar to the Young Writers Program.
The “Now What?” Months
In 2013, January and February were deemed NaNoWriMo’s “Now What?” Months, designed to help novelists during the editing and revision process. To participate, writers must first make a commitment to revisit their novels. This includes signing a contract via NaNoWriMo. The next step is to attend the Internet seminars where publishing experts and NaNoWriMo novelists are available to advise writers on the next steps for their draft. After that, participants should communicate on Twitter via the hashtags in order to compare editing notes and interact with agents and publishers. The last step is to stay updated with NaNoWriMo’s blog where encouragement and advice are offered by authors, editors, and agents. The main goal of these “Now What?” Months is to get novelists published.
Published NaNoWriMo novels
Since 2006, nearly 400 NaNoWriMo novels have been published via traditional publishing houses and over 200 novels have been published by smaller presses or self-published. Some notable titles include:
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
- Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, published by Delacorte Press
- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, published by Dutton Juvenile
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, published by Doubleday
- Wool by Hugh Howey, published by Simon & Schuster
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer, published by Square Fish
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, published by St. Martin’s Press
- The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, published by Del Rey Books
- Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy, published by HarperCollins Publishers
- Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers, published by HarperCollins Publishers
- The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, published by Gollancz
- The Cut Out by Jack Heath, published by Allen & Unwin
- The Beautiful Land, by Alan Averill, published by Ace
- Script Frenzy: creating a script in April of every year that ran from 2007-2012.
- Southern Cross Novel Challenge: southern hemisphere version of event that ran in June from 2007-2013.
- NaNoRenO: creating visual novels in March of every year.
- NaNoMangO: creating manga in November of every year.
- NaNoGenMo: creating procedurally-generated novels in November of every year.
- NaBoMaMo: creating bots in November of every year.
- NaPoWriMo: creating a poem every day in April of every year.
- InCoWriMo: sending a hand-written note every day in February of every year.