Thursday, October 27, 2005

Chris Baty - Founder of

November is National Novel Writing Month. Why is it National Novel Writing Month? Because in 1999, Bay Area writer Chris Baty decreed it as so. He gathered up 20 of his closest friends and they each wrote a novel in 30 days. This year—seven years later—Baty's "NaNoWriMo" will see 60,000 people sign up at to take the novel-writing challenge (and you can still sign up; writing commences November 1). I caught up with Baty to find out why his vision has such mass appeal.

How did you decide that encouraging people to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days was a good idea?

The idea was to give yourself permission to write a laughably awful novel. You give yourself permission to suck and then you free yourself from those fears that you're a hack. That's the first step in writing a good book—giving yourself permission to write a bad book.

But I don't want to write a bad book...

I know, it's tough. The problem is that as we get older we shy away from realms of incompetence, but you really have to embrace this idea that not knowing what you're doing is totally fine, and to just write for word count.

So how'd you get this thing off the ground?

I love books and I thought it would be cool to get a group of friends together to just write a mediocre novel in a month. The name [National Novel Writing Month] was just a joke. It was a consolation prize for writing such crappy novels—we could at least run them under the banner of this fancy name. I've been running NaNoWriMo every year since and it's gotten more extensive but really it's the same event that it was in 1999—30 days, 50,000 words: Go.

Has the size of it all exceeded your wildest dreams?

Yeah. The common assumption is that as a culture people are becoming more passive and it's hard for me to be part of NaNoWriMo every year and feel that that's true, because here's a HUGE group of people who are giving over a month of their lives just to write a novel. There're no prizes! All they get is the finished book and the experience of doing it. I think that attitude is hopeful for our culture.

Hey, locals! Portland has one of NaNoWriMo's most active chapters, with tons of participants, plus fun parties, writing groups, and other cool events all this month. So sign up today,, and join your nearby peers in the pursuit of extreme novel writing. You are not alone!

[Justin Wescoat Sanders / Portland Mercury]

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