I Am Joe’s Blog:

October 31, 2005 • 11:13 PM

National Novel Writing Month

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a Web site describing National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as it is known in the trade), which is held annually in November. Initially, I thought this might make a good Interesting Thing of the Day article, but the more I read, the more I became convinced that I should be a participant, rather than just an observer. And so, during the month of November, I’ll be writing a novel.

I will be one of roughly 50,000 participants this year. Since NaNoWriMo began in 1999, the numbers have steadily grown to the point where it’s a worldwide phenomenon. NaNoWriMo novelists are looking for quantity, not necessarily quality. The event’s founder, Chris Baty, arbitrarily declared 50,000 words to be the threshold for success. The point of this exercise is not to win the Pulitzer prize or even to get published; it’s to make good on that promise most of us have made to ourselves at some point in our lives: “One of these days, I’m going to write a novel.”

The rules are simple: You must not write even a single word before 12:00:01 a.m. on November 1, and you must stop by 11:59:59 on November 30. You can write in whatever genre, and on whatever topic, you wish—as long as it’s fiction. NaNoWriMo’s servers will validate your word count, but as to what you write, you’re on the honor system—you could “win” by writing “a” 50,000 times. Of course, there are no prizes; it’s all about personal achievement. So participants have little incentive to cheat. Local and regional groups meet during the month at cafés and pubs for “write-ins”; participants also offer each other support and encouragement virtually in online discussion forums.

In order to reach 50,000 words (about 160 pages) in a month, one needs to write, on average, just under 1,700 words per day. Because I make my living writing, it’s a rare day when I write fewer words than that, so I’m not particularly concerned about sheer quantity. But I’ve never written fiction, so that will be the challenge.

Needless to say, it’s not as though I had nothing else to do in November. I have articles and ebooks to edit, programming to do for Interesting Thing of the Day, and a long list of personal projects I’ve been putting off since June. In the grand scheme of things, writing the short, first draft of a first novel that will probably never be published is not among my top priorities in life right now. And yet, somehow, it seems like the right thing to do. Some of the best decisions I’ve made in life were ostensibly irrational but just felt right, and I’m expecting this to turn out the same way.