National Novel Writing Month is an annual event held in November. Originating in the SF Bay Area of California with just 21 people back in 1999, it has since ballooned into a worldwide event encompassing damn near everywhere, with (in 2011) 256,618 participants and 36,843 winners – people who met the word count goal. It has produced an extensive list of published Wrimos. For more history and stats and so on, check out the About page.
The goal is simple enough: write 50,000 words (or more!) of a novel in 30 days. It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty or linear or even finished. The sole target for the purposes of winning (which nets you a PDF certificate and winner’s web badges) is the word count. If it seems ridiculously impossible, the daily goal to reach 50K in 30 days is just 1,667 words, which can be banged out in as little as an hour if you are a fast typist and the ideas are flowing, or written a little more slowly if not. The daily goal is a suggestion, not a requirement. Many people exceed it fairly regularly. Many people don’t. The point is to try. The event is known as NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short; participants are often referred to as Wrimos; and the volunteer workers who head up each region are known as Municipal Liaisons or MLs.
My personal history with NaNoWriMo is very long, so I’ll link to my profile and let it speak for itself. Suffice to say that 2013 will be my eleventh year as a participant, my tenth year (hopefully!) as a winner, and my fifth year as the ML for the Australia::Melbourne region. I’ve written fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal fiction, horror, and random mish-mashes of all of the above.
So, why should people try NaNoWriMo? Above and beyond anything else, it’s fun. The Melbourne region is full of amazing people. I have forged deep and lasting friendships with people via NaNo over the years, not just locally, but also in Sydney, Saskatoon, and Nashville, apart from other places. (I mention those regions specifically because Melbourne has long-standing region word wars with them, where we try to best them based on average word count.)
You were talking about fun… Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I’m easily distracted. Fun! Every year we have a Kick-Off Picnic; a Cup Day all-day write-in and pizza-fest; an overnight write-in known as the Night of Manuscripting Madly (NOMM) (after the Bay Area’s Night of Writing Dangerously); and a Thank God It’s Over (TGIO) party. This year I hope to launch the inaugural Great Train Write-In, where we write on — you guessed it — a train. There’s a weekly social night (Drinkies) where we discuss our progress, eat yummy food, and drink yummy drinks. There’s ML Appreciation Day, which is where everyone makes me feel special by saying nice things and giving me hugs (although those are welcome any day :D). You get to meet Walter Wombat and Ripley Rhino, the region’s mascots. And of course there are the rest of the write-ins.
What’s a write-in? Write-ins are held across the region, hosted by anyone who wants to host them; I do a call for volunteers when the forums reopen in October each year. Basically, you bring along your laptop or netbook or tablet or notebook or parchment and quill, sit around with a bunch of other writers, and write. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea as some people prefer to write alone, and that’s 110% okay; write-ins are purely optional. But when you’re sitting in a room jam-packed with creativity zinging off the walls, it’s very hard not to get caught up in the vibe. We also have an online chat room, usually on IRC, for people who want to participate but can’t make it. And then of course there are word wars…
Word wars? Yeah. On the basic level, you pick an opponent (or a group), set a time, and write your fingers off for that length of time. (Years of experience tell me that between fifteen and thirty minutes works best for most people.) At the end of the span of time, you all announce how many words you wrote. Word wars are also known as word sprints and there is an official Twitter feed run by volunteers (me included!) that we try to keep going as constantly as possible during November.
Then, on the regional level, some regions may choose to challenge other regions to a war. The outcome of this is generally determined by the average word count per participant, as regions have wildly different numbers of participants and so total word count would be thoroughly unfair. (And I say that as ML of one of the consistently highest ranked by word count regions. We were ranked number eighteen in the world in 2012.) Melbourne traditionally challenge Sydney, Saskatoon, and Nashville, and have also challenged Brisbane, Montana, and Philadelphia. It’s a great way to get to know fellow Wrimos from around the country and the world.
I can’t possibly write that much in a month. The answer to this is either ‘Yes, you can’, or ‘Bullshit’, depending on how well I know you. I have done NaNo when I had no commitments and I have done it when I was working full-time and finishing up my Grad Dip in Editing and Publishing and MLing at the same time. It seems like an insurmountable goal to pretty much everyone the first time. But we have people from virtually every possible background and level of ability that you can imagine, and the bottom line is that even if you don’t reach the 50,000 word count goal, at least you tried. The thing about NaNo is that it was founded on the principle that people always say they want to write a novel ‘someday’. This month-long event is intended to help you make ‘someday’ ‘today’. Even if all you write is 5,000 words, that’s more than you would have done otherwise.
Okay, I’m convinced… but tell me again what’s in it for me. If you win, you get the winner’s goodies from the official site, which is usually a PDF certificate and web badges that you can use to announce your winner’s status. You also get a warm and fuzzy feeling when you see the purple bar–
The what? Sorry, we have to have some secrets.
Oh. Go on. –and you also get all or part of a completed draft of your very own novel. You wrote a novel. That’s pretty fucking awesome, right?
Well, yeah. But what else? Well, this varies by region, but in Melbourne if you attend the Kick-Off Picnic you get a goody bag with special secret stuff in it (that I usually end up blabbing about because I can’t keep my mouth shut). You get to make friends and connections. We have a veritable shitload of editors, cover designers, and other skilled people who can help you nurse your novel towards publication, if that’s the way you decide to go. (NB: do not assume that because someone is a trained editor they will read your book for free and give you tips. Same with graphic artists and so on.)
So I don’t get an automatic publishing deal? No, but as I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few published Wrimos who have edited and redrafted and fixed up their initial manuscripts and been published, either ‘traditionally’ (usually getting a literary agent’s representation to find a publisher) or via the self-publishing route. We have a few right here in Melbourne, as a matter of fact. I’m not published (yet), but it’s definitely one of my life goals.
Consider me sold! Great! NaNoWriMo is the main site, and here’s the new account sign-up page. If you are in Melbourne, please visit the Regions landing page once you have signed up and set Melbourne as your home region, as this means you will get the region emails that I send out to notify you of events. The forums run year-round and are wiped every year, usually in early October, to make way for the new year’s content (as you can imagine, writers talk a lot). There are also many other resources out there for Wrimos, and here are just a few:
So tell me a little more about this MLing gig. Well, since you asked… as the ML for Melbourne, I’m basically the event manager for the region. The base requirements are simple: Kick-Off event, four write-ins during the month, TGIO party. I have always made a point of going above and beyond this, with the Cup Day write-in and the NOMM being our major events, but also drinkies and as many write-ins as I can cram into the calendar. Last year we had fifty-two write-ins from Chelsea to Boronia to Brunswick and everywhere in between. Obviously I wasn’t at them all, but I did do a hell of a lot of travelling. We also had multiple plot-in events in October, where people met up to discuss planning and plotting for their novels, which I imagine will be the case again this year.
I always attend the Kick-Off, the NOMM, and the TGIO (and drinkies). I attend Cup Day if I’m not rostered to work (sorry, public holiday pay is the one thing that takes precedence over writing, but I’m not usually working. Having said that, this will totally be the year it happens XD). I mark all other events on the calendar as ML Attending if I will be there so that people know where to find me. I generally wear a distinctive writing-related t-shirt and announce what I’m wearing for identification purposes, and I have a nametag. Oh, and the bunny ears, which draw inspiration out of the air and into my brain.
As well as MLing, I also assist with forum moderation on the site: my two forums apart from the regional forum are Games, Diversions, and Other Exciting Forms of Procrastination, and NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul. Games is four stuff like word association, throwing things at other posters, egregiously erroneous information, wish corruption, and other message board games. Ate My Soul is for agonising over the state of your novel, posting your favourite typos (NaNoisms), and the Plot Bunny Day Care Centre (watch out for Alphonse).
And yes, as well as all of this, I do find time to do my day job, spend time with family (admittedly less than usual…), play with my cats, and of course write my own novel.
Acknowledgements: I couldn’t do this every year without my amazing team of assistants. First place always goes to Monique, who graciously hosts the Cup Day and NOMM write-ins. Without her and her folks we wouldn’t have our lovely venue that holds so many people, and it will be very sad when we have to relocate. She’s my MonStar!
Secondly, the Brains Trust: Aimee, Scarlett, Figgy, Jaime, and Deano, Mike, Mark, and Mark as partners thereof. These people are my darlings and I love them to bits.
Thirdly, the Support Squad: all of the above plus Alex, Abbie, Cecil, and Meg, who help me scout drinkies locations, find picnic venues, and keep me from going mad.
Fourthly, absolutely everyone else, because I am 110% sure I’ve missed someone.
And finally, Danny, who has made this journey with me every year since 2004 and is beyond awesome.