Posted on October 18, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)
As eagle-eyed readers might have noticed, over on the right hand side of this website I have a little message about NaNoWriMo, which starts on November 1st. Every time I mention NaNoWriMo in conversation, I get a quizzical look – the same quizzical look I gave years ago when I first found out about it.
So what the heck is it anyway? Well, obviously it's the National Novel Writing Month, a project initiated by Chris Baty back in July 1999, when Chris and 20 friends decided it would be a right rollicking lark to bash out a complete novel in one month just to see if it could be done. It was hard work, and their first draft novels were (apparently) really bad, but they ended up having so much fun that the following year they built a website and started getting the word out. The second NaNoWriMo event took place in 2000 (moved to November to take advantage of miserable weather), and that year they had 140 participants. Word spread like wildfire around the internet, and the third year's participation took them by surprise, with 5000 crazy writers getting involved. The website servers crashed and Chris and his team of volunteers thought they were going to die from exhaustion, but they got through and realized they needed to think bigger. Every year since has seen massive increases, and last year, 2009, there were 167,150 writers feverishly banging away at computers, writing novels. The Washington Post said, "If this growth rate is constant and participation is cumulative, then every American will be writing a novel in November 2027. We'll be a country made entirely of boozing, tortured authors."
Each year there are "winners" – that is, those who succeed in meeting the goal of 50,000 words. (In case you're wondering, that's about half the length of Island of Fog.) There are just a few simple rules, but rules hardly matter because the point is not to win a big prize. There is no big prize, and nobody is going to catch you cheating. Nobody at NaNoWriMo.org is going to read your novel, and you don't win some kind of publishing deal. Instead, you get to congratulate yourself for finally writing that novel you've been meaning to write for years. But of course it helps having masses of other writers surging forward trying to meet the same goal. NaNoWriMo's website allows you to manually update your word count as the month progresses, and keep an eye on the word counts of fellow writers. At the end of the month you can (optionally) upload your novel for a final official word count; it's deleted immediately once the count is done.
There's a list of writers that have been published thanks to this literary marathon, and some are pretty well known. Ever heard of a forthcoming movie called Water for Elephants? It's about a traveling circus in the 1930s, and part of the movie was filmed close to where I live in Chickamauga, Georgia. Anyway, it's due out in April 2011 and is based on a novel written during NaNoWriMo. So while there may be thousands of terrible, awful novels written in November, there will be some that turn into bestsellers too.
It's not cheating to have your novel planned before you start. I have a chapter summary mostly finished, so I'll know where I'm going by the time I start writing on November 1st. This novel has nothing to do with Island of Fog, but is something I've been mulling over for quite some time now. Will it be any good? I don't know. The idea of it is preposterous, but why should that stop me? We'll see. Of course, in November I'll be writing a first draft only – all the editing comes afterward, and will likely take months, assuming I decide it's worth messing with at all. And then I'll have to decide whether to self-publish it or shop it around to agents/editors as an unpublished manuscript.
So what's it about? Well, I'm not going to say much here except that a boy is ferreting around in a closet trying to find something when the entire house sinks into the ground. At the bottom of the sinkhole he finds something amazing. I've read and heard about massive sinkholes before, and it's no laughing matter; people have lost their lives in similar situations. Sinkholes are pretty scary; some of the biggest in the world are a thousand feet deep. But there's always a fantasy element in my novels and this particular sinkhole is deeper still. There's also a girl whose younger brother is extremely powerful and dangerous and pretty much the cause of everything that happens in the story. Look, I told you it was preposterous!
If you're the sort of person who has always thought about writing a novel (preposterous or otherwise) and never has the time, or if you don't think you have it in you to finish it – then maybe give NaNaWriMo a go. If you do sign up, make sure to become my buddy so we can urge each other on!
By the way, none of this will get in the way of Island of Fog Book 4, which I plan to start on in the New Year.
Keith! I had no idea you were a NaNo fan. I committed for the first time last year and had a ball.... my novel was... well... a start but got to approx 80,000 words so I've got something to work with. So I'll definately add you as a buddy when the system lets me. http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/582419
I had no idea you were a NaNo fan either! I added you to my buddy list (thus doubling the length of my buddy list). Great to see on your profile that I'm mentioned as one of your favorite authors, hehe!
I also signed up and will give this a whirl. I did several speedwriting sessions last week and found my average is about 770 words in 30 minutes. I wish you the best of luck with yours!