Ready, Set, Write

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

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
. 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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