NaNoWriMo – More than scarves and gluttony

in Nonfiction by

Aside from scarves and gluttony, what does November have in store for you?  Perhaps you’ve heard that it’s National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately called by the initiated, is now in its 14th year. The goal for participants is to write a 50,000-word novel, from scratch, in the 30 days of November. Last year, over 341,000 people participated all over the world (the designation of “national” seems to be arbitrary). These intrepid writers come from a variety of backgrounds, from published authors to first-time novelists.

Why do so many people sign up for the event? Reasons vary, of course, but one major attraction is having the pressure of a deadline. There is nothing like a deadline for motivation, is there? In order to write 50,000 words in a month, participants have to write approximately 1,666 words each day. The online component uses bar graphs to track writers’ word counts and key them into whether they are on track. Or not. Again, it’s motivation to keep writing, no matter how challenging, every single day.

For others, NaNoWriMo is a liberating experience. Creating a novel in a month becomes possible if they write wildly, recklessly, never looking back. This kind of approach gives them permission to turn off their inner editor and tap into the creative funk juice. Writing at top speed can lend itself to taking chances and making happy mistakes. For many, this permission to throw words on a page is an illicit affair that rekindles the love of one’s main squeeze, serious writing.

Of course, 50,000 words in 30 days do not a quality novel make. A novel written this way is at best a very rough first draft. It requires extensive revision and editing, as well as considerable fleshing out. If the average novel is between 60,000 and 100,000 words, then a 50,000-word NaNoWriMo novel is a small, untamed, and not fully matured creature. It must be cared for and trained before it’s ready for release into the wider world.

So, has anything readable come out of NaNoWriMo? Yes! Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants (Algonquin, 2006), and Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011), made good use of the challenge. Both books were drafted during National Novel Writing Month, and went on to become bestsellers. Gruen’s NaNoWriMo novel spent seven weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, and then returned to the #1 spot as a paperback. Circus spent its own seven weeks on the list as the #2 bestselling hardcover. The big publishing houses have released dozens of additional NaNoWriMo novels, not to mention all the books picked up by independent presses, as well as many successful self-published works by entrepreneurial authors. For these participants, National Novel Writing Month is a worthy vehicle for their creative journey.

Other writers experience a less tangible, but no less important outcome: spending a month immersed in their own imagination. People who never thought of themselves as novelists end up astounded to discover that they wrote a book by the end of the month, rough and gawky though it may be. They committed to one month of creative abandon and ended up richer for the experience, perhaps ready to take on other new life challenge.

So, will you jump into the frenzy and try your hand at crafting a novel? Perhaps you would like some help. NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty has your back with his book No Plot, No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days (Chronicle, 2004) as well as the accompanying workbook, Ready, Set, Novel! (Chronicle, 2011) co-written by Lindsey Grant and Tavia Stewart-Streit.

On the other hand, maybe you’re more interested in reading a novel written by one of those intrepid NaNoWriMo authors. Along with Water for Elephants and The Night Circus, there are plenty of other books to choose from. Here is a brief but wide sampling of possibilities:

  • Are you a literary fiction reader in need of a beautifully written book about family heartbreak and loss?  Try The Hungry Season by T. Greenwood (Kensington, 2010).
  • Is science fiction more your cup of tea? Try Wool by Hugh Howey (Simon & Schuster, 2013), a post-apocalyptic story set underground.
  • With her debut novel Time Off for Good Behavior (Grand Central, 2004), Lani Diane Rich was the first previously unpublished author to publish a NaNoWriMo manuscript. Her witty story will give you a decidedly flawed main character to relate to as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life.
  • Perhaps you are really in the mood to sink your teeth into a YA vampire story. Try Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Den of Shadows series. She began writing the series at the tender age of thirteen, writing book five, Persistence of Memory (Delacorte, 2008), during NaNoWriMo. Not only does this book feature the tried-and-true vampire theme, but also the less common shape-shifting hyenas!
  • Or maybe you need something entirely more wholesome to share with your third grader?  How about Jessica Burkhart’s Taking the Reins (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009), book one in the Canterwood Crest series about Sasha Silver and her horse, Charm, trying to find their way in a hoity-toity new equestrian school.

As you can see, NaNoWriMo has produced something for nearly everyone. Whether you are curled up in a comfortable armchair or hunched over a laptop, may National Novel Writing Month bring you much happy reading, writing, or both!


Main image by paloetic (from flickr creative commons)


has worn many hats, including Western figurine painter, rustic bread baker, and 3rd grade teacher. She currently works in the world’s largest independent new and used bookstore and lives in Portland, Oregon. April shares her home, and love of Skee-Ball, with her two extraordinarily energetic children, handlebar mustachioed husband, a geriatric pug dog, and two high-priced rescue cats. When she’s not busy ignoring dust bunnies April can be found reading and writing.

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