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NaNoWriMo: Fun, Fiction, and Finding a Writing Community

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2023-11-21

It’s November, and while for many people that might mean the lead-up to the holiday season is beginning, for thousands of people around the world, November means something very different: NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month,” and it is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that works to promote creative writing around the world. What they’re really known for is their flagship program, which is an annual global creative writing event, in which participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during the month of November.

 

The History

The first NaNoWriMo manuscript writing event took place in 1999, in the San Francisco area. Freelance writer and organization founder Chris Baty began with only 21 participants, but the next year, in 2000, that number jumped to 140 participants. A Yahoo! group was created to help participants connect with each other during the writing process, and the first ground rules were laid: the novel must be a new work, it can’t be co-authored, and it must be submitted in time to be verified. That year, 29 people successfully completed the challenge, and organizer Chris Baty verified those works manually, all by himself!

By 2001, word spread, and 5,000 participants entered. The event has continued to gain popularity and scale-up — last year, in 2022, there were 413,295 novel-writing participants, of whom 51,670 became winners by completing their manuscripts!

 

How It Works

The rules for participation are as follows:

  1. Writing starts at 12 AM on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 PM on November 30, local time.
  2. No one is allowed to start early and the challenge finishes exactly 30 days from that start point. 
  3. Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November in order to win.  You can either write a complete novel of 50,000 words, or the first 50,000 words of a novel that will be completed later. 
  4. Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
  5. Participants’ novels can be on any theme, any genre of fiction, and in any language. Even things like fanfiction and novels in poem format are allowed.

There’s no fee to enter the event, and there isn’t a prize for winning — the real prize is the self-satisfaction you get from completing the challenge!

 

Creating a Community

One of the biggest rewards of participating in the challenge is the support you get from the NaNoWriMo community.

Well-known authors, such as Gene Luen Yang, Roxane Gay, Kacen Callender, John Green, and N. K. Jemisin, write "pep-talks" in order to motivate participants during the month, and participants can even meet up at in-person events put on by NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons. Municipal Liaisons are volunteers who help with organizing local events and mediate regional forums. Most regions have at least one Municipal Liaison, and they are encouraged to coordinate at least two kinds of meet-ups: a kickoff party, and a "Thank God It's Over" party to celebrate successes and share novels. Other events may be scheduled, including weekend meet-ups or overnight write-ins.

There’s also the Come Write In program, which connects libraries, bookstores, and other neighbourhood spaces where people can go to write with their local NaNoWriMo participants and Municipal Liaisons to build vibrant writing communities.

If you identify with a particular community, there may also be special community supports for you to connect with, including the Affinity Group program. Affinity Groups are designed to help writers of marginalized identities connect with one another, share experiences, exchange resources, and identify challenges that impact their ability to engage with others or our programs, as well as celebrate successes. There are groups for writers of colour; disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill writers; LGBTQIA+ writers; and more. You can also create your own Writing Group, which is a group of three to 20 writers who communicate and share encouragement with each other as they go through the challenge. These groups can operate year-round.

There is also a rich community participating on the NaNoWriMo forums. The official forums provide a place for advice, information, criticism, and support. There are discussion threads on just about any topic you can think of, from plot ideas to regional word wars to the best games you can turn to when procrastinating! The forums are available from the beginning of October, when signups for the year begin, to late September the following year, when they are archived and the database is wiped in preparation for that year's NaNoWriMo forums to start up again.

 

After It’s Over

Once the challenge is over, if you’ve finished a manuscript, you may be stuck wondering what to do with it. Well, the organization has thought of that too, with their “Now What?” months in January and February. To participate in this portion of the program, writers commit to revisit their novels and can attend Internet seminars where publishing experts and NaNoWriMo novelists are available to advise writers on the next steps for their draft. Participants also communicate on X (formerly Twitter) to compare their editing notes with other writers, as well as interact with agents and publishers who offer guidance. NaNoWriMo's blog also offers encouragement and advice during this period by featuring posts written by authors, editors, and agents.

If you make it all the way through writing the manuscript, revising and editing it, and putting together a submission package, you might be surprised to hear about some former NaNoWriMo authors who did the same, and ended up with bestsellers. Some Notable NaNoWriMo titles include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin), The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday), Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Press), and Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy (HarperCollins).

So, if you’ve got a novel idea kicking around in your head and feel like you want to get it out on paper, consider participating in next year’s NaNoWriMo challenge! You have a year to get the prep work done, after all. You can find out more on the NaNoWriMo website: https://nanowrimo.org/about-nano.

 

 

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