Ready, Set, Write

National Novel Writing Month puts wannabe novelists on a tight deadline

| November / December 2006

Forget the archetypal image of the brooding writer buried in a heap of crumpled paper. There will be no time for perfectionism or procrastination in November as a projected 75,000 would-be novelists attempt to pound out 50,000 words in 30 days.

This marathon is the brainchild of Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, who dreamed up the idea as a way to combat the self-inflicted paralysis that prevents many writers from getting past the three-chapter stage in the fiction-writing process. 'Once you come to terms with a flawed first draft, you stop obsessing over every sentence,' says Baty, who started the communal 'noveling adventure' back in 1999 with a group of 21 ambitious comrades in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The heady rush that accompanied that first 30-day deadline sparked a tradition that has grown into a worldwide event. If history is any guide, thousands of manuscripts will roll into by midnight on November 30. Computerized word counters will verify them one by one, and the names of the authors who pass the test will be published on the website's winners' page-ample incentive, especially since several NaNoWriMo vets have seen their novels published.

Granted nonprofit status earlier this year, NaNoWriMo has digs in downtown Oakland, and Baty serves as director. The organization plans to launch more events based on the success of the monthlong model (screenplay marathon, anyone?) and to continue investing in philanthropic causes. Once this year's event is paid for, 50 percent of the net proceeds garnered from donations and promotional items will go toward building libraries for children in Southeast Asia through a partnership with the children's literacy nonprofit Room to Read. In the spirit of writing with childlike abandon, NaNoWriMo also has set up a young writers' program so that classrooms can participate in the speed-writing exercise, albeit with more flexible word counts.

Not surprisingly, unofficial spinoffs, like NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), have cropped up for that next, perhaps more grueling stage in the process: the revision. Even Baty, who is reworking two of the seven 'unhorrible novels' he's turned out since 1999, knows you have to slow down. 'I'm finally handing in the ninth draft of my first NaNoWriMo manuscript to my agent this week,' the would-be novelist says.

To participate in NaNoWriMo, go to and sign up. To find out about your local kickoff party and other events, head to the 'regional lounge' in the NaNoWriMo forums or e-mail your area's municipal liaison, who will be listed on the contact page.

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