Many of us think we have the Great American Novel in us, but most of us never get around to actually committing this momentous and important work to paper. Well, this November is the time to do something about that, so dust off the laptop, brew a 55-gallon drum of coffee, and visit NaNoWriMo.org (www.nanowrimo.org). NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) is a site that holds a writing contest every November for aspiring novelists.
There are very few requirements to enter. Basically, all you have to do is write a 50,000-word novel (the site's promoters reckon this is about 175 pages) in one month. You can make notes ahead of time, but the prose of your novel must be written, in its entirety, in one month. Novels are judged on one thing and one thing only: length. The site has tools that will count the words in your novel. If the count meets or exceeds 50,000, you're a winner. The prize: a certificate suitable for printing and using for whatever strikes your fancy. Last year there were 2,100 winners.
The site is not about publishing. There is a place where you can post a small excerpt from your novel, and there are local parties at the end of the year where winners can bask in their glory, but that's not the point. The point is writing. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to create a support group that will cause people to write. In fact, the site even has a laptop-lending program for those who want to join but don't have access to a PC—although you do need access to a $500 deposit.
As the FAQ encouragingly points out, "Make no mistake, you will be writing a lot of crap." But, at the end of the process, you'll have written a novel of sorts, and you might have learned a little discipline (unless you write it all in a four-day Hunter S. Thompson-esque orgy of sleepless writing, and there's a certain discipline involved there, as well). You might even discover that it wasn't all crap and that you can, in fact, write. Or not. Either way, it's a hell of a lot more of an accomplishment than spending all those bleak November nights watching TV.
We found 669 sites linking to the NaNoWriMo, which would have put it in line with the least-known half of our "Undiscovered" sites in this year's Top Web sites story. This number of links would have put the site in the bottom 5 percent of this year's "Classic" sites.
[Sean Carroll / PCMag]
Friday, October 17, 2003
Participants face the challenge of having to complete a 50,000 word novel by midnight on November 30.
The contest, known as NaNoWriMo for short, was started in the USA in 1999 by Chris Baty.
Only 20 people took part in the first contest, but by last year the number of participants had risen to over 20,000.
A number of writers from the UK have taken part in previous years and are expected to do so again this year.
The 2002 contest had 2,100 winners - a winner being anybody who manages to reach the 50,000 word count - compared to six in 1999.
There are no real prizes, although every winner receives a special certificate.
"The prize is enduring pride for each winner, knowing they climbed the mountain of words and came out on top, and had a lot of fun along the way," said a spokesperson for the contest.
One of 2001's winners, Jon F Merz, went on to secure a publishing deal following the contest. His book, The Destructor, was published in March 2003.
Two participants from the 2002 contest have also sold their manuscripts to publishers.