The Paw Print
Historically, Halloween has been a day of ghosts, goblins, and magic. Its been the “go as you aren’t” day, allowing otherwise sane individuals to dress up in the craziest costumes they can find and not be sent to the funny farm. Since 2000, Oct. 31 has also been a day of last minute planning and frantic excitement for the arrival of November and with it, National Novel Writing Month, or as its more commonly referred, NaNo.
Originally started in July of 1999, NaNo began with 21 people in the greater San Francisco Bay area and was organized and founded by Chris Baty.. It was rescheduled the following year to November, to take advantage of the miserable weather and the lack of anything else to do. That year, instead of the 21 participants, Baty found himself with 140. As mention of the program spread via the internet and popular media (such as the New York Times, ABC News, and NPR), participant registration skyrocketed. In 2010, ten years since the move to November, over 200,000 people registered. Over 37,000 of them managed to get to fifty thousand words.
In September 2006, NaNoWriMo officially became a non-profit organization operating under the name “The Office of Letters and Light”. It runs Script Frenzy in April and NaNo and the Young Writers Program in November. The Young Writers Program is the kid’s version of NaNo, which provides services and support to students and their teachers K-12. The Young Writers Program doesn’t have the 50K limit, but has the students give themselves a minimum word count prior to November. In 2006, it’s first year, the YWP was used in 150 classrooms and involved 4,000 students. Like with NaNo, those numbers have only grown and in 2010, 41,000 K-12 students participated.
The rules for NaNo are very simple. Starting at midnight on November 1, you must write 50,000 words in 30 days. Everything from fan-fiction, which uses trademarked characters, to novels in poem format, and even meta-fiction is allowed; according to the website’s FAQ, “If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.” Starting November 25, verification begins, where winners can upload their work to the website servers to be declared a winner. The website does not actually read the manuscript, it simply counts words, and once verification is finished, the file is wiped clean. You cannot co-author a novel and all words must be written during the month of November. You can plan and organize outlines prior to November, but the actual written content of the novel must be written during the 30 days.
Though you don’t receive any official prize for finishing (besides the satisfaction in knowing you succeeded), some participants have gone on to publish their work. In 2008, Random House published Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ Persistence of Memory. In 2005, Harper Collins published Sara Gruen’s Flying Changes. And Warner Books has published three of Lani Diane Rich’s NaNo novels: Time Off for Good Behavior (2004), Maybe Baby (2005), and Wish You Were Here (2008). A semi-complete list of all published authors can be found on the official NaNo website.
I myself have done NaNo since 2007, when I walked down into the Conour hall student lounge to get something to drink from the machine and found four ladies writing on their laptops. I’d been hearing about NaNo online through friends but had been hesitant to try. After speaking with the other ASC participants, however, I went back to my room, grabbed my laptop, and before I knew it, I was sitting downstairs typing. I had no idea what I was going to write, I simply wrote, and continued to do so for the next thirty days. The novel that came out was Penguins, which I am now contemplating sending to publishers.
This will be my fourth year participating (and hopefully my third win) and I’d like to offer some suggestions to those who may decide to join the insanity.
The first thing to accept when attempting NaNo is that it’s not going to be perfect. In fact, to quote the New York Times, “it will be very, very bad.” Grammar, spelling, punctuation, if you want to make it to 50,000 you can’t agonize over any of this as you write. The trick is just to keep going and don’t look back. Once you hit 50K, once November is over, and then you can go back and wince at the atrocities. Until then, you must ignore them.
Try and keep to a timetable—1,667 words a day may sound like a lot but when you get into it, the time will fly and before you know it, you’re 4,372 words in on your first day. That said, if you do get ahead on word count, don’t take a break and not write for a day unless you absolutely have to. That’s called procrastination and can be deadly in this fun, if chaotic, race.
Don’t worry about writing a serious or well thought out novel. You can always go back later on and fix things if you believe you got too flip. My first year, one of my friends wrote about a hero on a quest, with a golf club as his weapon of choice. It was hilarious and not at all serious.
Finally, just have fun. Though it may turn out to be stressful towards the end, this is supposed to be enjoyable. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re doing something wrong.
For more information, visit www.nanowrimo.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.