National Novel Writing Month Inspires Authors

November 14, 2015 Updated: November 17, 2015
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Legions of would-be novelists are finding the month of November, unofficially proclaimed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), to be a prescription to get off the snide and on the stick. The procrastination bug, commonly called “writers block,” a fact of life in a writer’s life, is incontestably the single biggest malady affecting—or, afflicting—the masses who take up pen or keyboard with a possible dream to self-actualize, turning out a best seller and being able to take the rest of their lives off from the day job.

If only the bramble of ideas in the head would take concrete form on the page.

NaNoWriMo takes up this cause. “Founded accidentally,” claims Chris Baty, who launched NaNoWriMo in 1999, in San Francisco, Calif. Its mission energizes what it calls “a seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” Organizers challenge participants to write about 1,600 words a day for the 30 days of November. The result is the first draft of a novel-length manuscript of 50,000 words by 11:59:59 on November 30. That’s about the word count of “The Great Gatsby,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gallery.”

Why the month of November? Very simple, notes Baty: “[T]o more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.”

Baty, who teaches at Stanford University’s Writers Studio and leads symposia on writing, justifies NaNoWriMo’s quantity-over-quality approach in an interview with Huffington Post. “A lot of writers set impossibly high standards for their first drafts, which tends to sabotage the creative process.”

Adds Baty: “I keep hoping that publishers will offer downloads of the first draft of bestselling novels as a public service to writers. I think we’d be astonished. And relieved.”

Cris Freese, a contributor to Writers Digest, a magazine read by both established as well as emerging authors, adds that writing takes work—”everyday discipline”—to not just navigate the writing mine fields that keep writing hopefuls from writing, but to attack the paper with a vengeance. “Writing is a lot like exercising,” says Freese, who advises to “make writing a routine—as routine as brushing your teeth, eating lunch, walking the dog.”

Though Freese is not affiliated with NaNoWriMo, his words echo the theme of this month, designed to get every person around the planet to write and not look back.

To participate in NaNoWriMo, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is free. Registration is only required for novel verification. From its beginnings of a 21-writer membership, the roster has climbed to 400,000 members worldwide. The only dues for membership is to write and to keep track of word count. According to NaNoWriMo’s blog, the anticipated overall November tally is 2.8 billion words. Rewards come from gratification for having done it. Anyone who reaches the 50,000-word mark is a winner.

Vincent Takas, a NaNoWriMo participant from Glendale, Calif., sounds the horn for the NaNoWriMo challenge. Recounting offbeat childhood experiences in the 1950s that included him transcribing the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and writing a chronicle on behalf of a friend to a cereal company over its lapse in honoring a promise, he suggests a time in a writer’s life when an epiphany that he is a writer occurs. His came with the purchase of an antique roll-top desk on the heels of a grief-filled period in his life.

“The desk became my best friend. I wrote at it every morning,” says the former New York State trooper, who moved out west in the 1980s. He soon took up a position in security at Disney Studios, where he is a member of a writing group for Disney employees, which meets up weekly. “We all write a single prompt for about 30 minutes. Afterward, we each read whatever we write.” 

As NaNoWriMo provides a platform to motivate each other, Takas salutes additional motivation to “The Artist’s Way,” a book by Julia Cameron, whose approach mirrors NaNoWriMo’s framework that urges writers to banish self-censorship—and striving for perfection—in return for becoming immersed in the writing process. “It is a brain dump,” says Takas. “It clears out everything that has gathered steam from the day before. When I finish, I am ready for the day. That’s satisfaction.”

NaNoWriMo claims over 250 novels from its participants have been published. The list includes Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants,” on the New York Times’ bestseller list for many weeks and turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

From California to New York, and on all continents of the world, from cafes to public places to persons’ homes, November is the month that NaNoWriMo designates to just do it—to gather singly or in groups with a singular purpose to write. Meet-ups are listed on the NaNoWriMo website.

“No matter how you write, it’s always you and the page,” advises Diana Gabaldon, an award-winning author and NaNoWriMo participant, “No right way or wrong way.”

Timothy Wahl’s experience in business, education, the sciences, and the arts gives him a unique platform on a spectrum of subjects.