National Novel Writing Month: Writers Writing for a Better World
Every year since 1999, writers set aside 30 days of their time to crack away at the first draft of a story they'd been mulling around for a long time in an event called National Novel Writing Month.
The first of these tasks took place in July of '99 in the San Francisco Bay Area between 21 young writers in their 20s.
"…we wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twenty-somethings start bands. Because we wanted to make noise. Because we didn't have anything better to do. And because we thought that, as novelists, we would have an easier time getting dates than we did as non-novelists," the site runners speak of their intentions.
Since then, they've accomplished much more than providing their followers with the support and encouragement they often need to accomplish starting and perhaps finishing a novel. NaNoWriMo.org now operates 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that supports young writers aspiring to take their craft to the next level.
Donating to their nonprofit charity helps bring free creative writing programs to very nearly half a million children and adults in approximately 200 countries, 2,000 classrooms, 650 libraries and 600 NaNoWriMo regions every year.
Because the event was moved from July up to November the next year, the difficulty has laid with college students to even have the prospect of getting started. Writing, especially writing a novel, can be a difficult and stressful experience. The nature of writing a work of fiction is taxing on the brain as it is the body, and so at a time when midterms are just sweeping across the gate, and finals are looming near, maybe it's not the best time of year for a student to be worried about writing that book they've been meaning to tackle.
However, that's not likely to stop many people from getting in the groove anyway. In 2013 alone, 310,095 participants started and finished at least 50,000 words, 651 volunteer Municipal Liaisons guided 595 regions on six continents, 89,500 students and educators created worlds through the Young Writers Programs and 650 libraries opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.
Since its inception, over 250 novels that were written during the month of November have been traditionally published to mainstream success including: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Wool by Hugh Howey, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.
Among this toast of NaNo's finest, authors contribute encouragement sessions in the form of "pep talks" to keep the spirit of the event alive. In 2014 these included Veronica Roth, Tamora Pierce, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Wendig, Kami Garcia, and Jim Butcher.
Being a skeptic of all things newfangled and interesting, NaNoWriMo, for years, struck this writer as sort of a waste of time. There's no practical way that you can finish a full novel in just 30 days and retain the integrity of what makes great literature. However, we can't chalk good work up to the amount of time it takes to build upon. The decision to participate in NaNo isn't between, write in 30 days and churn out garbage, or don't and churn out the next masterpiece of literature.
Especially at a time when #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been trending, and the internet is providing more resources for younger and more progressive authors to get started, research and excel at their craft, NaNoWriMo is in a position where it can instigate real change. Diversity in literature, more creative stories and a whole generation of new stories are flooding the gates. Not all of them will end up being incredibly successful, but with places like Kindle Direct Publishing, and LuLu which provide self-publishing services, and websites like Fiver where artists and editors flock to provide premium services to people looking for a relatively affordable deal, the resources at hand for non-contract authors to see their work out on shelves and in the hands of the people who want to read them has never been easier.
NaNoWriMo provides authors, young and old, with a place where they can communicate with other writers, have a stringent deadline with which to work up to, and witness their celebrated progress sprawl across the screen each day they update that word count. While there's still much to do after the clock strikes zero on Nov. 30 in order to really take the piece to a place where it can be coherently enjoyed, and maybe even sold, NaNo has been providing people with a meaningful way to get started for the past 15 years, and even you don't make to the end this month, or the next, or even years after, that's something worth celebrating.