Everything You Need to Know About National Novel Writing Month

November is getting closer, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited. November means sweater weather, Thanksgiving food, Thanksgiving break, and most importantly, National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo). What exactly is NaNoWriMo, you might be wondering. Well, I’m glad you asked.

The History

Freelance writer Chris Baty first organized National Novel Writing Month in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area alongside 21 fellow writers. Baty was tired of believing he would write a novel “one day” and was ready to make sure the day would come. He and the 21 other participants challenged themselves to write 50,000 words in a month. (50,000 words could be considered the length of a novella but as the official website says, novel sounds much more impressive). 50,000 words is roughly the length of works like The Great Gatsby or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At the same time, 50,000 words can be a great start to a lengthier work.  

The following year, a website was launched to support the project and 140 writers signed up. It was moved from July to November to take full advantage of the “horrible” winter weather (or arguably to make the excuse for more coffee, more blankets, and cozier writing) and the project took off. In 2001, 5,000 writers participated. Since then, the project has gone international and numbers have continued to grow.

Today, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge in which writers (because if you write, you are definitely a writer, at least in my opinion) attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It’s hard, but not impossible and amounts to a daily average of about 1,667 words a day when divided evenly over the course of the month.

The Rules

The rules are simple and are almost exactly the same as when the project started in 1999. Participants must start their novel from scratch, but they are allowed to plan as much as they like beforehand. Starting from the moment Halloween ends on November 1st at 12 AM, writers have until November 31st at 11:59 PM local time to write their novel. Novels of any genre are allowed, as long as they reach 50,000 words by the end of the month. As written in the FAQ section of the website, “If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.”

Other Programs

In 2005-2006, the staff supporting National Novel Writing Month registered as a non-profit organization. Today, money donated to the program helps with the maintenance of the website and organization as well as funding the extensive Young Writers Program.

The Young Writers Program has a special place in my heart because I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time when I was 12 among other young writers across the nation (and the world!). Unlike the main program, young writers of any age under 18 can set their own word count goal for the month, often averaging around 30,000 words. The YWP also supports educators who participate with their classes, supplying lesson plans, workbooks, and classroom kits to work with their students and keep them motivated throughout the month.

Recently, NaNoWriMo also started a program in the summer called camp NaNoWriMo where participants can set their own word count goal and take on the noveling challenge during the more lovely months of April and July. It is affectionately dubbed “an idyllic writer’s retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.”

Why Participate

Okay, so it sounds crazy. Write 50,000 words in November? During the Thanksgiving holiday? During midterms?

So maybe it is crazy. But that’s the point. It’s a seat-of-your-pants adventure to tell a story, good or bad, without worrying about its quality and instead, doing it for you.

In addition to writing an entire novel, or even making an incredible attempt, participating in NaNoWriMo teaches skills that are extremely useful after the fact. The first is the strength of determination. As established, you are doing an absolutely crazy thing, and it is your own mental and physical fortitude that will keep you going. It doesn’t matter if you reach 50,000 or if you fail gloriously. You committed and you worked, and you did a thing. Your effort, your commitment, your time, and your creativity matter.

More practically, I learned to that nothing is perfect on the first try. Knowing that takes a lot of the pressure off doing a lot of assignments for school or elsewhere. Putting ideas down on paper is helpful whether you use them or not. Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches you to get things done without your inner editor watching over your shoulder.

The community built by NaNoWriMo is another powerful and compelling reason to participate. During the month, you aren’t in a month-long, endless void, trying to pull off the impossible by yourself. On the NaNoWriMo website, there are countless forums on every subject to find people to talk to, about problems in your novel, about your genre, or any other part of your life. The community extends into real life too. On the website, you can select a region closest to you to find events with other people participating nearby. You can get feedback and encouragement, which you’ll find much needed as the month goes on.

NaNoWriMo is also a tremendous form of procrastination. God it’s hard to be a college junior in November. I don’t want to study for midterms and do group projects while finals lurk nearby in the future. I want to think about my characters, who I love dearly already, their story, and Thanksgiving break. Bottom line, it’s a form of procrastination that sounds extremely impressive.

The last reason to participate is probably the best. Everyone thinks they can write a novel and plans to do it “someday.” Someday can be today. This is your chance to write your novel. Finally. No excuses. Do it.

And as they say on the program website, “Your story matters.” Make sure you take your chance to tell it.   

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