NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a creative writing project originating in the United States in which each participant attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Despite the name, the project is now international in scope. Nearly 80,000 participants registered in 2006, with almost 13,000 winners verfiying their novels as meeting the goal. The cumulative word total for all participants in 2006 was 982,564,701.
The project was started by Chris Baty in July 1999 with 21 participants in the San Francisco Bay area. Since then, the event has been held in November "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather."
2000 was the first year NaNoWriMo had a website; instead of a message board, the group had a Yahoo! club. It was also the first year many of the ground rules for NaNoWriMo were laid out, such as disallowing previously started works or co-authored books. 140 participants signed up for participation and 21 completed 50,000 words.
In 2001, Chris Baty stated that he expected 150 participants; 5000 signed up. At that point in time, sign-ups were not automated, so the end of October and the beginning of November were spent with Baty and a small team of volunteers signing the massive backlog up by hand. Other troubles included a hacking of the site and massive bandwidth use forcing Baty to turn down the idea of official wordcount verifications. 700 writers crossed the finish line that year.
2002 saw massive technical improvements and automation to the site, as well as what Baty described as "laugh-so-we-don’t-cry t-shirt misadventures." Media attention from the National Public Radio and CBS Evening News brought the participation count to 14,000. The next year saw the start of the Municipal Liaison program and the first set of pep talk emails. Baty also began work on "No Plot? No Problem!" during the 2003 NaNoWriMo, writing concurrently on it and his own fiction novel.
From there, the site has continued to grow every year; 2004 was marked by a new site layout, entirely new code, the book-styled Flash profile pages, and 42,000 participants. In 2005, 59,703 people participated and 9,765 were declared winners, and new features to the site included the Young Writer's Program and an official Podcast. 2006 included more participants, more publicity from the likes of BoingBoing.net and Yahoo, and additional features such as a WriMo comic and a sponsorship program.
Participants' novels can be on any theme and in any genre, and are allowed in languages other than English. Everything from fanfiction, using copyrighted characters, to novels in poem format and metafiction is allowed; in the words of the FAQ, "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too." They must be completed before 11:59:59 PM on 30 November, local time. Advance planning and notes are permissible, but no earlier written material can go into the body of the novels.
Participants either write a complete novel of fifty thousand words or simply write the first fifty thousand words of a novel which may require more text to complete. Although the former is arguably more satisfying, and many participants aim to complete their plots just past the fifty thousand word mark, a fifty thousand word novel is not particularly long by the standards of published works and might be more accurately described as a novella. Some participants may set higher goals for themselves, like writing 100,000 words or completing two or more separate novels.
No prizes are awarded for exceptional length, quality, or speed. Anyone who successfully reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a "winner." Beginning 25 November, participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length and receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on the web, and inclusion on the list of winners. No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the only significant reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat. Novels to be verified are "read" by software, and they may be scrambled (have letters randomly substituted for other letters) before being submitted for verification, so it is possible to win without anyone (other than the author) ever seeing or reading the novel.
To "win" NaNoWriMo, participants need to write an average of 1,666 and 2/3 words per day (typically rounded up to 1667), which is about two and a half pages, single-spaced, in a 12 pt font. This pace allows little time for revision or editing. Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and put words to paper. This "quantity over quality" philosophy is summarized by the site's slogan: "No Plot? No Problem!" This is also the title of Chris Baty's book of advice for NaNoWriMo participants, published in the fall of 2004 by Chronicle Books. There is no fee to participate in NaNoWriMo; registration is only required for novel verification.
For many participants, the related forums are an integral part of the whole endeavor, providing advice, information, criticism, support, and an opportunity for collective procrastination. The forums are available from the beginning of October, when signups for that year start, until late September, where they are archived and wiped in preparation for the next year. There is also an official IRC channel, #NaNoWriMo, found on the GoodChatting server, where participants can talk, socialize, brainstorm, or participate in Word Wars, which is a timed friendly competition usually between five and twenty minutes where participants try to write as many words in that span of time as they can.
Participants also gather in person. Most regions of the world have one or more Municipal Liaisons assigned to them; these are volunteers who offer to help with organizing events. Most areas will have at least two kinds of meet-ups; a kickoff party, and a "Thank God It's Over" party to celebrate successes and share novels. Kickoff parties are often held the weekend before November to give local writers a chance to meet and get geared up, although some are held on Halloween night past midnight to allow writers to start writing in a community setting. Other events may be scheduled, such as weekend meet-ups or overnight write-ins.
In September 2006, NaNoWriMo officially became a 501(c)(3) non-profit under the name The Office of Letters and Light. All contributions are tax-deductible under U.S. law. Donations can be made directly, or users can purchase items such as T-shirts and mugs from the NaNoWriMo store. In 2004, NaNoWriMo partnered with children's literacy non-profit Room to Read and has continued with that partnership for three years. 50% of net proceeds from 2004 and 2005 were used to build libraries in Southeast Asia; three were built in Cambodia and seven more were built in Laos. $14,000 was raised in 2005 to help with this project. In 2006, funds will be directed to building children's libraries in Vietnam.
NaNoWriMo also runs a Laptop Loaner program for those who do not have regular access to a computer or word processor. All their laptops are donated from NaNoWriMo participants. Those wishing to borrow a laptop are required to cover the cost of shipping it back and must send a $300 deposit but are not charged a fee for using the laptops. In 2006, AlphaSmart, Inc. donated 25 brand-new Neos to expand Laptop Loaner library with the promise of 25 more over the next two years.
In 2005, NaNoWriMo started up a Young Writer's Program primarily aimed at classrooms of kindergarten through 12th grade students, although homeschooled individuals and groups are also welcomed. Its inaugural year, the program was used in 150 classrooms and involved 4000 students. Teachers can sign up their classroom for participation and are sent a starter kit of materials to use in the class, which includes reward items like stickers and pencils. Lesson plans and writing ideas are also offered as resources to teachers, while students can participate in the forums.
Other unofficial events have spun off from NaNoWriMo since its inception. Those who wish to spend time editing and polishing the stories composed during NaNoWriMo may choose to follow it up in March with NaNoEdMo, or National Novel Editing Month. The original site went dead in June 2006; a different group has revived it at NaNoEdMo.net for March 2007. NaNoPubYe is a similar group that seeks to have a novel published in a year, starting with NaNoWriMo in November and continuing through the editing and publishing process through the remaining 11 months.
Similar communities for writing novels in other months also exist. NaNoFiMo, National Novel Finishing Month, takes place in December. There are two communities for writing a novel in January, a Livejournal community and a forum-based website which are loosely affiliated but not the same. April Fools takes place in April. There is also a group for July, JulNoWriMo, which will have its third year of participants in 2007. NaNoWriYe runs for a full year with winners writing between 50,000 and 3,000,000 words. Other timed writing communities include Book in a Week, Write Here, Right Now, which is a 1000 words a day challenge in February from Radio Scotland, and Mad Challenge, alternating between a novel in a month and other challenges. A group in Wellington, New Zealand has created Kiwi Writers, a writing resource web page open to anyone where members can create and offer up their own writing challenges to other members. Based on Nanowrimo, they also have a novel writing month more appropriate to the southern hemisphere, taking place in June (Southern Cross Novel Challenge, or "SocNoc").
A non-novel writing spin-off is NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month, which also occurs annually in November. The Office of Letters and Light, creators of NaNoWriMo, have also planned Script Frenzy, a scriptwriting spinoff, for June of 2007. Naplwrimo (National Playwriting Month) encourages its members to finish an existing script or complete a new one in the month of November. For artists, NaNoMangO occurs twice a year, once in November and once in June, and challenges artists to draw thirty pages of a comic in a month, and NaNoArtMo in January encourages participants to complete ten different art projects in a month.