A record number of would-be authors are slated to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, with an estimated 300,000 writers expected to sign up for the challenge. For those unfamiliar with the concept, NaNo—as it’s often called—is a writing challenge, an online community, and a full complement of social media commiserating rolled into one.
NaNoWriMo pits writers in a race against the clock for the entire month of November with the lofty goal of writing a 50,000-word novel during its thirty calendar days. Online forums, live regional meetups, emailed pep talks from the staff, and more provide the incentives and the motivation to keep plugging along when the month gets dark and the inspiration falls through.
Interestingly, while NaNo is more of a writing exercise and a motivational tool, there have been a number of books that at least began life as NaNo novels, but through massive editing and polishing did go on to become bestsellers; Sara Gruen’s Like Water for Elephants is perhaps the most well-known, having been also adapted for film. Unfortunately, writers who might wish to use NaNo as the model to write their future bestseller might be disappointed, as the program isn’t focused on quality of writing, but more on helping writers develop the dedication to actually write. The editing can come later, but November is strictly about getting the daily word count cranked out. It might simply be a coincidence, but a number of literary agents are closed to submissions every year during the month immediately after NaNo; perhaps they were tired of freshly spewed novels showing up in their inboxes without sufficient editing?
If writers treat NaNo as it was intended—that is, as simply a challenge and a way to try something that will require daily discipline—it actually stands to be a very powerful tool towards becoming a better author. The process teaches writers about the focus and discipline of crafting a novel, but later forces them to truly see the work that needs to be done to turn it into a readable book.
NaNo, put on each year by the California-based Office of Letters and Light, has already launched its sign-up website and listed this year’s winner incentives. To sign up for this year’s challenge, go to NaNoWriMo.org and enroll for free.