In July 1999, Chris Baty and friends challenged themselves to write a 200-page novel in a month. “Everyone’s got a novel inside of them,” he wrote in an early email to his friends. It started off with 21 participants. The next year, Baty suggested moving it to November, to capitalize on the cold dreariness of the month. They also hammered out the finer details of the rules. By 2001, the participants grew from 21 writers to over 5000.
Today, November has been declared National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and people worldwide dedicate themselves to write. In 2017, over 349,000 people signed up and over 50,000 successfully finished. Since 2006, hundreds of NaNo novels have been published, both in traditional publishing and self-publishing.
While there are rules, the annual event runs solely on the honor system. That said, the rules are pretty simple:
- It has to be a new project
- NaNoWriMo starts at November 1, 12:00 AM and ends November 30, 11: 59 pm
- It has to be a solo project
That’s it. It doesn’t matter if you finish the project, if you verify your word count daily or at the end of the month or how exactly you wrote it. The principle of NaNoWriMo is simple: get in the chair and write. Often, people glorify the writing process as this mystical thing when showing up and doing the work is one of the most important things you can do.
I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice — once with my sister in 2013 and by myself in 2016. In 2013, I had no laptop, so I had to write everything by hand. My outline wasn’t finished and I had no real experience writing. In 2016, I was working a job with crazy hours. I had a laptop this go around but no outline. Both times, I succeeded.
Despite having two different circumstances both times, I discovered a lot of who I was as a writer. As I looked over my incredibly rough first drafts, I could see what areas my writing was the weakest. I figured out what writing habits I had and how I worked best.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t necessarily teach you how to write a book, but it will show you how YOU write your book. The maddening pace of it will reveal things about yourself, both as a writer and as a person. It can even give you a support system, as the site shows you local writing groups during the month. Even if you prefer to write alone, there’s nothing quite like knowing you have a community behind you.
If you’ve ever thought about writing a novel but felt hesitant, I highly recommend NaNoWrimo. It’s honestly changed my life, and after all, everyone has a novel inside of them.