It started in July 1999 with just 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay Area; in its second year it grew to 140 participants. Fast-forward 13 years later, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has increased significantly to 19, 123 participants during the year 2011.
NaNoWriMo, which takes place from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30, is a project that challenges writers across the world to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.
When freelance writer Chris Baty started the challenge in 1999, only 21 people among the 140 participants completed 50,000 pages.
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However, during its third year, Baty had been expecting a total of 150 participants; to his surprise, 5,000 people showed up to participate in NaNoWriMo.
During the year 2010, a combined total of 200,530 people wrote over two billion words.
Now, Keene, N.H. has caught onto the writing wave. Junior Christina Anderson has participated in NaNoWriMo for the past six years.
Anderson said that during her sophomore year of high school was when she first got her start, after hearing an author who was participating in NaNoWriMo discuss the national novel writing month.
For students still in high school the Young Writers Program, which is a part of NaNoWriMo, allows students to take on their own word count challenege through the Young Writers Challenge.
However, Anderson said that despite being able to determine her own word count goal, she still wanted to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words as a high school student, but every word written didn’t come without a struggle.
“I did struggle a little bit in the beginning. It’s much more difficult if you don’t plan ahead of time,” Anderson said, “If you have never written that amount it is extremely difficult.”
But now, Anderson said that NaNoWriMo has taught her how to time manage better, making it easier to reach her goal of 50,000 words during the month of November.
”It teaches you how to cope with doing so much,” Anderson said.
During her first year, Anderson said she wrote a novel titled “Anomaly,” which portrayed a young girl who possessed the ability to change people’s thoughts. Now, Anderson is working on the third installment of her book series titled, ”Aurea.”
Anderson, who is a published author, explained that her book is based off of the King Midas myth and his obsession with gold.
The series follows King Midas’ daughter Regan, who was turned into gold due to her father’s obsession—now, Regan is on a quest to stop her father’s fixation on gold, Anderson said.
In order to reach her goal of 50,000 words during the month of November, Anderson said that on average she has to write 1,600 words a day—however, Anderson has managed to maintain writing on average, 1,963 words a day. Today, Anderson has written a total of 9,815 words with a total of 40,185 words remaining until she reaches her goal. However, Anderson is not concerned about reaching the 50,000 goal during the third week. “If you like writing, it forces you to sit down and do it. It is hard to get yourself to write constantly and consistently, but this allows you to do that,” she said.
For Anderson, National Novel Writing Month is more than just self-satisfaction and learning time management—it gives her an opportunity for her work to be published.
Anderson said that if a writer completes all 50,000 words, which averages out to about 175 pages, they are able to publish their work for free through CreateSpace.
Anderson explained that, “You have no time to edit as you go. You turn off your inner editor.” This is why all writers who complete the challenge have until June to edit their work for publication, Anderson said.
Anderson said that as of now, more than 200,000 people are participating in NaNoWriMo, making the combined total word count 733,371,452.
In the state of New Hampshire more than 3,449 writers have signed up for NaNoWriMo and as of Nov. 6 the total word count for the state of N.H. is a total of 4,122,522, according to their website.
But for some reaching NaNoWriMo’s goal requires some guidance.
During the month of January, the Keene Public Library is offering workshops to help writers with their manuscripts. Local author Jack Coey is offering a writing workshop on Nov. 19 and Nov. 26.
Coey said, “The big problem with writers is production.” Coey explained that for writers, creating an idea and developing that idea is their biggest problem.
However, Coey said that to create a manuscript of 50,000 words requires self-discipline—forcing yourself to sit down and actually produce a manuscript, rather than talking about the ideas you possess.
“Fostering the discipline to sit down daily really has merit,” Coey said.
“At this point it’s second nature. It [NaNoWriMo] has helped with the time management aspect. While school work is my priority, I want to do this, but you have to make the time,” Anderson said.
However, for some finding the time to participate in NaNoWriMo is not their only challenge. Coey said that for writers it is important to challenge the way you think.
“There’s a risk involved—this idea of going beyond what is expected. You have to be willing to take that risk,” Coey explained.
Coey said that writers should not be scared to take a risk with their story; rather they should thrive in the unexpected. In order to do this, Coey said it is important to write about what you know, which will allow you to take more risks with your writing.
“It’s not just about the intellectual understanding or the emotional understanding, it’s visceral,” Coey said. Using this intuitive instinct while writing will allow writers to develop the habits needed to develop something of substance, Coey explained. He said that for writers it is important to get ideas onto the page, and develop them, rather than focusing on the mechanical aspects of writing such as punctuation and grammar.
And that’s what NaNoWriMo is about: substance—creating a substantial story that isn’t just word vomit on a page–it all starts with a small idea that challenges you to think, to create a story that reaches more than just the goal of 50,000 words.
Sam Norton can be contacted at