October 30, 2017
You grew a beard for November? Cool story, bro; I wrote a motherflipping novel
by Susan Rella
It’s not a new Apple product. It has nothing to do with the prefix for billions nor with things very, very tiny. NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month. Now in its eighteenth year, NaNoWriMo is here to motivate you to write that novel you keep putting off because you have fantastic excuses. Like a full-time job. Like your team is in the World Series and that’s keeping you busy. Like you were doing really great at last year’s NaNoWriMo and then the election happened and no we’re not speaking from personal experience so shut up.
The objective is simple: participants sign up to write a novel during the month of November, starting at 12:00 AM on November 1 and ending 11:59 PM on November 30, local time. Starting earlier or ending later disqualifies you. This includes planning and outlining. You can make notes, but no material written before the start date can go into the body of the work. During those thirty days, you write at least 50,000 words — either a complete novel or the beginning of one, but 50,000 words is the minimum. You “win” by hitting that 50,000-word mark by 11:59:59 on November 30.
OK, so it’s gimmicky. But gimmicks can be neat? And when you think that something that began in 1999 with twenty-one writers had, per their 2016 press release, over 430,000 participants in 2015, with 40,000 “winning,” that’s actually pretty inspiring. These are 40,000 books that might never have been written. 40,000 potentially fantastic works that just needed that extra motivation to push pen to paper.
NaNoWriMo is pretty bare-bones; anything you consider a novel, it considers one, too. So, fan fiction, poetry, metafiction — those all count. There’s no fee to join, and the website offers helpful tips (they advise writing 1,667 words a day to hit the goal), including motivational posts by well-known authors to help writers plow through rough patches. There are tips for writer’s block, information on local meet-ups, and a whole slew of other support offerings from NaNoWriMo’s community of like-minded scribblers. And you can verify your 50,000 words without anyone else even having to read your Scooby Doo erotica; the website offers a scrambler to protect your artistic wares.
While there are no official prizes for winning, self-publishing platform CreateSpace teamed up with NaNoWriMo in 2007, offering winners one free paperback proof copy of their novel. By 2011, CreateSpace was giving winners five free copies; in addition, there are other sponsors offering prizes and discounts each year.
And if you’re wondering, yes, NaNoWriMo has led to commercial success. Bestseller Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a NaNoWriMo baby, as are The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Wool by Hugh Howey.
Still, with the aim being to churn out 50,000 words in a month, regardless of quality, maybe please wait for at least two rounds of edits before sending submissions to your favorite indie book publisher?
Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.