Novel contest asks just one thing of writers, 50,000 words in a month
NOVEMBER 19, 2010 12:35 p.m. (0)
Baty and 20 other self-proclaimed yahoos – a term from Gulliver’s Travels for primitive, human-like creatures – either wanted to express themselves or thought writers had an easier time getting dates. Some wanted both.
They didn’t want to be the next great American novelist. Thus, each of the 21 scribes from the San Francisco Bay area decided to write a 50,000-word novel in one month. This month, more than 200,000 people from around the world are doing the same thing.
Over 11 years, Baty’s competition has become the world’s largest writing challenge. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s called, tests the procrastinators and the perfectionists.
To make the 50,000-word goal, you must write an average of 1,667 words each day in November. You begin Nov 1. Armed with nothing except an outline, research and a character sketch, if desired, competitors cannot contribute any prose written prior to the competition. Winners are people who upload at least 50,000 words to the NaNoWriMo Web Site by Nov 30 at midnight. They receive an official “Winner” web badge and a PDF Winner’s Certificate. In 2009, out of 167,150 participants, 32,178 were winners. “It’s all about quantity, not quality,” Baty says on NaNoWriMo’s site.
The competition encourages a unique approach to writing novels. Length wise, it’s similar to writing The Great Gatsby in one month. With the focus on the volume of words rather than the quality of writing, NaNoWriMo frees novelists from the pressures of editing their works for style, content and coherency.
“The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” Baty stated.
Its slogan, “No Plot, No Problem,” captures the lighthearted, supportive tone of the challenge. No one reads the uploaded novels; the electronic manuscript is destroyed once a computer script counts the number of words. Participants, also called Wrimos, and staff post blogs, forums and news stories to the site, giving writers advice, support and constructive criticism. They even have a “Procrastination Station.” The site encourages Wrimos, libraries and clubs to hold kick-off events at the first of the month and gather for “write-ins” during the month. In these settings, writers commiserate with one another, bounce ideas off each other and create a spirit of community, helping to foster creativity and production.
This November, the Woodruff Library hosts NaNoWriMo events each week.
On Nov. 2, local writer K. G. McAbee spoke at their kick-off gathering. An award-winning author and NaNoWriMo contestant, McAbee gave tips on how to start writing, pace yourself and organize your story. Woodruff Library assistant Cathy Early was surprised and excited by the Tuesday night turnout.
Around 18 people attended the kick-off. Early believes most of them were first time writers or had never written own their own before.
Early said, “she [McAbee] got everybody fired-up about writing.”
Nov. 8 the library held a “write-in” to support those in the competition. They served snacks, coffee and cold beverages and provided five laptops, so writers only had to bring their USBs to work.
Though writers of all ages are welcomed at the events, the library will also have a teen write-in, as a part of the month’s separate competition for writers 17 years of age or younger.
Early thinks NaNoWriMo motivates people to write. It illustrates the power of a deadline.
“There’s a lot of procrastinators out there,” she says.
After reading about the competition, she decided to involve Woodruff library.
Early said, “I thought about all the people who say, ‘Someday I’ll do that; I’ll write a novel.’”
Though the highest win rate in NaNoWriMo history is 19.2 percent, winners and losers benefit from the competition.
NaNoWriMo program Director Lindsey Grant says, “Completing a draft of the novel they’ve been contemplating for ages gives participants a tremendous sense of accomplishment and leaves them wondering what else they’re capable of.”
The November competition not only raises confidence in writers but also raises money for writing. In 2006, NaNoWriMo became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the organization Office of Letters and Light.
It has raised money to build libraries in Southeast Asia, support their Young Writers Program and develop a laptop donation system for writers without access to computers or word processors.
To date, 2.67% of Wrimos have donated, raising $404,454.
On December 1, with words counted and winners declared, Wrimos rest their minds and keyboards during “Thank God it’s Over” parties.
Early says the competition is challenging, but she can’t wait to see how many people finish.
At least 66 novels written for the completion have been published, including Water for Elephants, a New York Times #1 Bestseller, by Sara Gruen.
A film based on Guen’s historical fiction novel and starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon will be released in 2011.
Some writers do live happily ever after.
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