This November more than 77,000 people around the world have risen to the challenge of trying to write a novel of 50,000 words in the space of one month. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) goes back to 1999 when a young writer named Chris Baty, living in the San Francisco Bay area of California, decided that he wanted to write a novel in a month.
Baty recalls: “In a more grounded age, my novel-in-a-month concept would have been reality-checked right out of existence. Instead, the very first National Novel Writing Month set sail two weeks later, with almost everyone I knew in the Bay Area on board.”
The 21 people who took part were “undertalented goofballs who had no business flailing around at the serous endeavor of novel writing.” They hadn’t taken creative writing courses or read how-to books on story or craft. “We were in our mid-twenties and we had no idea what we were doing. But we knew we loved books, and so we set out to write them.”
That first year, only six of 21 participants made it across the 50,000 word finishing line. Baty has organized NaNoWriMo every year since. The number of participants has grown rapidly, and this year 77,320 contestants are registered on the website at www.nanowrimo.org.
Participants submit their word counts to the website either through figures they provide, or through an online word counter. Although entire novels in progress cannot be posted on the site, participants can post excerpts. There are no prizes, but all who manage to produce 50,000 words are termed winners. By last Sunday, the participants had written more than 371.6 million words.
Baty’s breezy approach to fiction writing is reflected in the title of his handbook “No Plot? No Problem! Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.”
He urges writers to turn off their internal censors, and to regard the month’s output of 50,000 words as a rough first draft. And Baty claims that “plot happens”. He writes: “You don’t need to do research; you don’t need to understand anything about characters or plan out your setting. It’s fine to just start. And making it up as you go along does not require you to be a particularly gifted novelist.”
The website has six registered participants in Saudi Arabia. But only one, a 50-year-old man based in Riyadh, author of a work in progress entitled “As I Remember It”, had posted any word count to the website by last Sunday. His engaging excerpt is in the form of a memoir beginning with the narrator’s birth.
The other Saudi-based writers including 26-year-old Moody Writer with the novel “The Quest of Life”, 15-year-old alludra with “The Boat Maker”, and 60-year-old Dhahran resident jonikxx with “The Great Chunnel Heist” have yet to make their presence felt on the website.
NaNoWriMo may be no guarantor of good-quality writing, but tens of thousands of people worldwide find it a rewarding experience annually and many of this year’s participants are repeat performers from previous years And a few lucky participants have succeeded in having their NaNoWriMo novels published.
Susannah Tarbush, Saudi Gazette November 14 2006