By Robert Brad
November is dreary month; the colorful leaves of fall have already left the trees and the days are getting shorter, but the cheerful holiday spirit and beautiful snows of December have not yet arrived. Trapped indoors with cold dreary weather what do you do? In 1998 Chris Baty and 21 of his friends decided the answer was to write a novel, starting National Novel Writing Month. 10 years later NaNoWriMo is the largest writing writing competition in the world with over 100,000 participants last year. Participants (commonly known as NaNoers) try to write a 50,000 word story between November 1st and November 30th. Some get an early start by waiting staying up to write at midnight on the first (it is a Saturday this year) and procrastinators have until 12:59:59 the night of the 30th.
Broken down over the 30 days that’s just less than 1667 words per day, about three pages. Anyone who succeeds is declared a winner. While it’s a little bit short for a novel, many writers will lengthen their works in editing once the month is over. Some write thousands of extra words during November and still continue their works well into the next year. Others point out that plenty of famous works like The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy and The Great Gatsby are around 50,000 words.
NaNoers use a wide variety of approaches and write on many subjects. Some spend the rest of the year writing extensive outlines and character descriptions, other prefer a seat of the pants approach with no preparation. Topics range from slice of life romance to wild science fiction and fantasy. Officially, if you think you’re writing a novel, NaNo thinks you’re writing a novel.
Writers use a variety of tools, some swear by lucky charms or writing snacks. Most participants write on computers (sometimes using specialized programs just for NaNo) while other prefer the old fashioned clack of a type writer. Writing by hand is losing popularity while the use of AlphaSmart word processors, keyboards with a small LCD screen and memory, is on the rise. Sporks have remained a constant as an items required for any NaNoer.
NaNoers congregate both online, on forums or in chatroom, and in real life. Local gatherings are coordinated by volunteer municipal liaisons, and anyone who donates enough is invited to a five hour write-a-thon on November 15th, titled “A Night of Writing Dangerously. NaNoers are a supportive bunch, rallying together to help with everything from character names, plot advice and lending real life experience to contributing recipes to a cookbook of writing snacks such as Cake in a Mug. First time NaNoers can get mentored by previous winners who help them through the tough times of week two into week three, widely considered the time when most of the best work is done.
Of the participants about 18% finish and 24 authors have had their novels published. The goal is not to be published however. Fred Bloss, Bloomsburg University English Major, explains that the appeal of NaNo is that it give that, “I like it because it’s fun and it gives me a goal to work for, so I can actually finish writing a novel.” Baty explains that the quality over quantity approach leads to better writing then most would expect. He also say that writing a novel will make it easier to get dates. So if you’re looking for a way to pass the time huddled in your dorm against the cold, and inject more than a little insanity into your month head over to nanowrimo.com and get ready to write.