NaNo in a Nutshell
What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.
Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.
Where: You write wherever you’d like. On your computer, on your iPad, on a typewriter—anywhere is fine, just as long as you’re writing! For a more in-depth NaNoWriMo overview, visit the devilishly handsome “What is NaNoWriMo?“and “How NaNoWriMo Works” pages.
Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it?
NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.
Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.
But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.
Why 50,000 words? And how do you define ‘novel’?
Our experiences over the past twelve years show that 50,000 is a difficult but doable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. The length makes it a short novel. We don’t use the word “novella” because it doesn’t seem to impress people the way “novel” does.
We define a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction.” Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of “novel.” In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.
If I’m just writing 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Why not just write a real novel later, when I have more time?
There are three reasons.
1) If you don’t do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a “one day” event. As in “One day, I’d like to write a novel.” Here’s the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It’s just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists. The structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START. Once you have the first five chapters under your belt, the rest will come easily. Or painfully. But it will come. And you’ll have friends to help you see it through to 50k.
2) Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you’ll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you’d never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.
3) Art for art’s sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and “must-dos” of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.
What happens to all the novels written for NaNoWriMo? Has anyone been published?
Novels that are uploaded to us for verification and victory between November 25 and November 30 are counted by a computer script, and then automatically deleted. We do not read or keep any novels sent in, and NaNoWriMo authors retain all rights to everything they write during the event.
Many, many winning novels have been written through NaNoWriMo. Our stats:
1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5,000 participants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners
2006: 79,000 participants and 13,000 winners
2007: 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners
2008: 119,301participants and 21,683 winners
2009: 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners
2010: 200,500 participants and 37, 500 winners
2011: 256, 618 participants and 36, 843 winners
A growing number of these novels have found publishers, including one New York Times #1 Bestseller (Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen). You can see a complete of published Wrimos and their NaNo-novels here!
What happened to Script Frenzy?
One thing that has made us proud over the years is how many people can call themselves scriptwriters because of Script Frenzy. Unfortunately, declining participant and donations numbers did not allow us to continue the program after the 2012 event. But to keep the creative spirit alive, we’ve designed Camp NaNoWriMo to be script-friendly, and you can still check out our fabulous scripting resources on the blog.