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Way to go, NaNoWriMo

November 5, 2008 | 10:47 am

Nanowrimo_1105

This is November, known to some as NaNoWriMo -- more clearly, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo started as an idea hatched by friends in San Francisco and, now in its 10th year, has become a community of more than 100,000 writers, all hoping to write a novel in just 30 days.

The online component is what makes NaNoWriMo work. On the NaNoWriMo website, people sign up, committing to writing 50,000 words between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. There are lively forums in which people can ask for help with everything from foreign language phrases to period details, or bigger issues such as characterization and setting and plot. They also commisserate on process, on being blocked, on not having enough time to write, on procrastination. Of course, any lurking in the message boards is a form of procrastination, but it does help to know that there are others out there battling the same novel-attempting demons at the same time.

Although 50,000 words is a pretty slim novel -- 175 pages, on the novella side -- writing all those words in 30 days is no small feat. To cross the finish line, an author has to get down close to 1,700 words every day. And that inclues Thanksgiving, the days before and after Thanksgiving, election day -- all days filled with multiple meaningful distractions.

NaNoWriMo provides its participants with many tools -- the helpful forums, a podcast, regular e-mails with tips and inspiration, local in-person writing meetups, the "No Plot, No Problem" handbook -- but if there is one thing that I think is truly transformative, it's that it gives participants permission to write. Of course, anybody can write any day -- but NaNoWriMo says that it's OK to let the laundry pile up; it's OK to duck out of social obligations; it's OK, simply, to make writing a top priority. For 30 days. Last year, of the 101,000 people who did NaNoWriMo, 15,333 reached their 50,000 words (and then, presumably, did their laundry).

Many of these are amateur writers, but not all stay that way. One of NaNoWriMo's early adopters was Sara Gruen, who drafted "Water for Elephants" one November; it later became a bestseller.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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