National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – begins this weekend, spurring all those would-be authors willing to put themselves on the line to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s an excellent initiative, and has now become grown into a global event. For those of you who are considering joining in, or have heard about NaNoWriMo and thought ‘that sounds kinda’ cool, I really should look into that’, here’s the what and the why of how it works.
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 in San Francisco with 21 participants. It was originally held in July, but moved to November because the weather in the US is worse then, inspiring more people to stay indoors and write. The event was started (‘accidentally’) by freelance writer Chris Baty, who organised the event up till 2011, when he quit to write full-time, largely based on the works and contacts he’d made through his work with NaNoWriMo (Baty now teaches at Stanford University, amongst his various creative pursuits). The ethos of the event was not only to inspire those who’d always wanted to write a novel, but to also build communities of like-minded folk, to get writers to connect with one another.
The event has grown year-on-year and is now a truly international event. In 2013, 400, 000 people participated in NaNoWriMo – including 4, 400 from Australia. The collective word count from those 400k writers was close to 3 billion, a massive achievement. Many of these stories would’ve never seen the light of day, but they’re now out there, being worked on, being discussed and connecting people in a discussion about the written word.
The rules of NaNoWriMo are as follows:
- Starting at 12:00 am on November 1st, novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before 11:59:59 pm on November 30th, local time.
- Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no earlier written material can go into the body of the novel, nor is one allowed to start early and then finish 30 days from that start point.
- Participants write either a complete novel of 50,000 words, or simply the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
To ‘win’ NaNoWriMo, participants need to write an average of approximately 1,667 words per day. Organizers say the aim of the event is simply to get people 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 – anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner.
Do any of these books get published?
Yeah, they do. More than 100 NaNoWriMo novels have been published since 2006, including the New York Times Best Seller ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen, which was later adapted into a Hollywood film. Many established novelists have used NaNoWriMo as an impetus to get their novels done, along with the thousands of first timers – just having it set aside as a time to write has kept many writers going.
How do you get involved?
You can visit the official NaNoWriMo website to register and put down details of your project and aim for the month. There are a heap of resources on the site, worth checking them out and reading through the various notes on inspirations and ideas. From the site, you can connect to the home for your region, where you can find info on events happening in your city and ways to connect with other NaNoWriMo folk – the Melbourne community page is here.
There are a heap of resources and posts online documenting people’s experiences and inspirations for NaNoWriMo, if you’re not sure about participating, have a look and you’ll be able to get a better idea of whether it’s for you.
Almost everyone has thought about writing a novel at some stage. Everyone has an idea in mind, a story they’d love to get down but they never have the time to actually do it. NaNoWriMo is a great initiative to help give people that push, that impetus they need to get it down – and it’s only for a month, you only have to make the commitment to write for 30 days. The bottom line is that a writer writes. That’s what you do – if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. NaNoWriMo could be the first step towards getting your story together, to making something from nothing, creating a whole world of characters and happenings, right there on your screen. It all starts with you and the blank page.
If you’ve ever thought about it, maybe this year’s the one that you actually sign up.
I caught up with a writer friend today and we were talking about the difficult commercial realities of being a writer, particularly in with the current state of the publishing industry. This is an issue that’s being discussed in many writing communities at the moment (including here), and being felt by the media industry in general – with so much content available for free online, it’s harder and harder to afford to make a career out of writing, or indeed, any artistic pursuit.
One of the things we went on to discuss was the state of consumption, and how media consumption may be changing the publishing industry. We generally have an accepted story structure in mind when we view things, based on movies we’ve seen and books we’ve read. We know there’s a beginning, middle and end and we have a good feel for what should happen in between, and this is how it’s always been, according to Joseph Campbell and other academics. But it feels like we may be on the cusp of a change to the way writing and story structure is accepted.
I noted this when my three year old son was watching Superman clips on YouTube. I was watching him as he clicked through, and he got onto some of the old Christopher Reeve Superman clips, and he loved them. This prompted me to get out the orginal Superman movie to show him, thinking he’d be excited by it. But he was totally bored by the storyline. ‘Find Superman’ he said, handing me the remote to fast-forward through. Granted, he’s a three year old, so he’s not really into storylines so much, but maybe his approach is indicative of a shift. He’ll never need to sit through the boring parts, he has YouTube. Maybe he’ll grow up with a different story progression in mind because of this. Maybe, the entire way we view films and books will need to change with the next generation.
I’m sure we’ve already seen examples of this – those Transformers films make almost no sense, but they are constant highlights. It’s possible that that’s what we’ll see more of, highlight reel films and that will inform the next generation.
Now, I don’t think that will mean the death of storytelling – I think there’s actually examples in the past year of a resurgence in film story – but I do think it’s something that will drive the commercial reality of being a writer, and may become another barrier for us to climb over, which is unfortunate. I believe we’re already missing out on some great novels even being produced because writers cant afford to write them. I believe that’s the main reason most authors only ever publish one book. And it’s a shame that we can’t (or haven’t yet been able to) find better structures to ensure literature and the arts are better funded so we don’t miss out on potentially great work.
There are discussions on this, I know, and hopefully they do lead to more opportunities for artists to survive amidst the ever-mounting commercial pressures.