Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's often been said that there's a novel inside all of us. The real difficulty is finding the time, motivation, and energy to liberate it. For many, the idea of toiling away at a computer for months on end, struggling with unruly characters and unravelling plot-lines is far too much like hard work. But this November a worldwide group of enthusiastic scribes will sit down with the sole intention of writing their 50,000 word masterpieces in just thirty days.

National Novel Writing Month, online at NaNoWriMo, is a non-profit 'literary crusade', whose mission it is to see aspiring writers turn into perspiring writers, as they work at a furious pace to hit the deliberately tight deadline.

"The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creative potential like nothing else," explains Chris Baty, the man behind NaNoWriMo, as well as a regular participant. "When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it's a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month."

The way it works is simple. Participants register at the NaNoWriMo site, create a profile, then once the whistle blows post daily word-counts which are publicly displayed. Over the month these accumulate until - hopefully - the 50,000 target is reached and they are proclaimed 'Winners'. Writers are also recommended to sign up to the various groups that exist on the site so they can challenge and encourage one another - a vital part of the whole idea. This community aspect turns what is usually a very solitary activity into one far more open, something first-time novelist Keith Hughes found very useful.

"It gave me the sense that I was not alone in attempting this," says Keith. "It took this large goal of writing a novel and broke it down to a manageable 1,667 words a day. I also had this strong sense of accountability due to having writing buddies on the NaNo site, posts on my blog about taking this challenge, and many tweets on Twitter before and during the month. All these things helped me to succeed and complete a novel of 70,000 words with five days left over."

It's not uncommon for participants to find innovative ways of motivating each other, as Podcast Novelist Nathan Lowell remembers.

"I entered a 'word battle' group with my town and we were competing against the next town over to see who could get the highest word count. It was fun to watch the graphs grow, as we both tried to have the most people finish. It showed me that there were more writers in my area than I thought."

Far from being the preserve of only aspiring unsigned authors, NaNoWriMo boasts several professional writers. David Niall Wilson is one such author, and a regular participant since 2004.

"What first drew me to it was the idea of a challenge," reveals David. 'It was just a change - sometimes that's what you need to get the creative juices flowing. I liked keeping track of others via the website, and sharing in the forums. Mostly I liked the progress bar feature. I'm pretty competitive, and seeing that thing shoot across the page and the percentage grow gave me extra incentive. The only downside of it is that you can get caught up in all the cool stuff on the site when you should be writing.'

Last year almost 120,000 people joined the crusade, writing over 1.6 billion words between them. So far this year 150,000 people have sharpened their word processors and await the starter's gun. Will you be among them?

[Martyn Casserly / Wired UK]

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