What is NaNoWriMo and why does it work for me?

Since 2011 I’ve been a member of NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. In the course of these 9 years I’ve participated 6 times and won it 4 times. Winning means writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November aka 1,667 words per day. For some writers this is a piece of cake, for others – like me – quite a tough benchmark.

In this blogpost I want to share some info on what NaNoWriMo is and why it works for me. See the pretty purple collar on my profile pic? That’s for being a 4-time winner. 😊

NaNoWriMo History

NaNoWriMo was accidentally founded by Chris Baty in July 1999. Twenty other people participated that year, all from the San Francisco Bay Area. The project began not because Baty and his friends had ideas for the great American novel but because they ‘wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands’. After grabbing the shortest novel on his shelf (which happened to be Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) and doing a rough word count, the number that Wrimos today strive for was set in stone. Six of the twenty-one participants, including Baty, completed the challenge. After 1999, NaNoWriMo was moved from July to November to take advantage of the miserable weather.

2000 was the first year NaNoWriMo had a website, aYahoo!group and rules were set up. That year Baty verified the winning novels himself by running a word counter on each novel. The event had 140 participants and 29 winners.

In 2001, the event became much more popular when 5,000 participants showed up. Like the year before, Baty (with the help of some friends) entered each participant manually into the system and invited them to a Yahoo! group but eventually had to put a deadline on signing up because of the volume of participants. When it was announced that official validation would be canceled that year due to the number of winners, participants validated each other’s novels. In the end, over 700 participants were validated.

By 2020 the event has grown from 21 friends to more than 300,000 writers in 90 countries. Chris still serves as a Board Member Emeritus for NaNoWriMo.

November as the novel writing month has been a tradition for years now, especially in the Indie world. One famous book that I know of that resulted from NaNo was ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen. But there are/were certainly more bestsellers written within the framework!

How it works

You create a profile on the website, where you share some personal info and info on your writing project. Tracking opens on 1 November and closes on 30 November. You upload your word count every day. If you want, you can write more than 50K words. By uploading your word count you and your buddies can follow your progress. It also provides some statistics about your performance. Cheating is possible, of course, but there’s no fun in that.

The site also has a shop and you can give donations for their causes.

Why NanoWriMo works for me?

When I started my career as a published author in 2011/12, I still had that romantic idea that one wrote when one feels like it, which certainly wasn’t every day and perhaps not for months on end. So the first time I participated in NaNo in 2012 – I enrolled in 2011 but was too afraid to try it – it was a tough call to suddenly pump out so many words every day but it was also exhilarating. As you have buddies that cheer you on, there is a kind of accountability which helps you to keep going.

During my early years I mainly wrote in November and produced very little in the rest of the year. There were personal, tragical reasons that kept me from the page as well, but I believe I wasn’t ready for understanding that formula of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

A decade ago, it was only a small group of dedicated Indies who understood that hitting your daily word count and rapid release were important factors in becoming a successful author. Those who embraced that discipline from the start have generally had a greater chance at breaking through because they now have an impressive backlist and published their series before the great surge began. Writers like me, bringing out one book a year, fared much less. I had to change my mindset.

So Nano is and will remain a favourite project for me although I write all year round now. There is a special romance in uploading your word count every day on the site and see it grow. Tracking that progress is part of the fun and the bonus of winning the badge and certificate at the end makes it extra special.

Whether all these rapidly typed words have any merit remains to be seen in the editing process, but I have a good feeling about them!

Do take part in 2021 and find me there to become my buddy: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/hannahferguson