National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual writing challenge / literary marathon in which participants pledge to write a 50,000 word short novel in thirty days (which works out to 1,667 words of original fiction, or 4-5 single-space typed pages, per day). The premise is based on the idea that, in NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s words, “The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of the deadline.” NaNoWriMo provides that deadline and connects aspiring authors with a worldwide community of fellow writers sharing the same dream.
NaNoWriMo began in 1999 with a mere nineteen participants in the San Francisco area. By last year, it had grown to over 250,000 authors worldwide, with even more expected to enter this year. In 2011, the Birmingham area alone had 376 registered participants, producing over 140 winning novels and writing over 7,000,000 words of fiction. While the vast majority of NaNo novels never see publication, there are many well-known and bestselling authors who participate, such as Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), and Birmingham’s own Lou Anders (editorial director of Pyr Books).
How it works: Go to the website www.nanowrimo.org and set up an author account. There are a plethora of online forums for authors to connect with others working in the same genres, doing research, or seeking advice on how to squeeze in all that writing time. On November 1, start writing. Each day authors are invited to update the word count total on their profile so that other writers can compare it to their own. At the end of the month, the official NaNoWriMo word counters check each writer's work for length – nothing else – and those who have crossed the 50,000 word finish line are awarded the status of “Winner!”
NaNoWriMo is not like traditional writing contests. Entries are not judged by any merit other than length, authors do not compete against each other, and the final prize is not publication. Instead, at the end of the month, NaNoWriMo winners have achieved that which is most difficult for any author to create – a finished first draft and the pride of accomplishment. Many people dream about “one day” writing a book. NaNoWriMo participants are living that dream now.