It’s that time of year again. The trick or treaters have finally gone home, the jack o’lantern candles have burnt down leaving only a faint trace of burnt gourd on the air, and the second midnight strikes writers across the world settle down in front of their computers for the month.
“For charity?” a colleague asked. Nope.
“So you get a prize?” Only the sweet taste of victory and roughly half a full-length novel, which actually sounds like a pretty cool prize to me.
At last count, 270,429 writers have signed up to participate this year.
Some of them write all year round, some of them may have never even thought about writing a book before. But if they write 1,667 words a day, they’ll have a novella-length work of fiction and an immense sense of accomplishment by 1 December.
The team behind Nanowrimo stress that it’s quantity, not quality that counts – after all, you can’t edit a blank page. Whilst this isn’t a mantra that works entirely for me, there’s something to be said for kicking your inner critic out and letting yourself write uncensored for the sheer joy of it.
Like any madcap scheme, Nanowrimo has its success stories.
One of my favorite books of 2012, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, was written in the caffeine-fuelled frenzy of Nanowrimo, as was this year’s cult YA hit, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.
The website states that over 250 participants have gone on to be traditionally published (a full list can be found here) – whilst that is only a tiny percentage of people taking part, who knows how many brilliant novels are just waiting for the right agent or publisher to take a chance on them?
But publication isn’t the point of Nanowrimo. I’ve been writing professionally for the best part of seven years, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever had as much sheer fun writing as I have through Nano. Writing, especially writing fiction, is a solitary activity. If it wasn’t, Twitter would be a lot quieter. For me, the appeal of Nanowrimo is in the community that builds up around it, both online and off.
As well as online forums for your every need, most cities host weekly write-ins where writers meet up over coffee, chat about how their novels are going and then settle in for some serious writing. In London we’re looked after by Jenn and Claire who, along with the write-ins, run Nanorilla – guerilla Nanowrimo! – where we roam London in wild packs, writing all over the city, from Bloomsbury Square, once home to Virgina Woolf, to the British Museum.
I’ve participated in Nanowrimo four times and won twice, but more important is what it’s taught me about myself as a writer. Early on in my Nano career, the timed writing sprints that, thanks to my deeply competitive nature, forced me to write when it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. Now writing is my job, and that skill comes in handy every day – I might want to check Facebook every five minutes or get up every 500 words to feed my cats, but all that gets me is a blank page and a stern talking-to from the vets. Knowing that if I persevere, I can write the bulk of a novel in a month means that all my previous excuses are null and void.
This year I’m working on the sequel to a novel I’m shopping around to agents, the second in a series of historical crime novels set in Victorian Edinburgh. Having spent the past year honing query letters and synopses, it feels good to get back to the nuts and bolts of writing again – and even if I don’t make it to the holy grail of 50,000 by the end of the month, I’ll know I gave it my best shot. And besides, there’s always December.
Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got a daily word count to meet.
Let’s give Kaite Welsh a round of applause in the comments to support her writing during Nanowrimo. Or, leave a comment with your own Nanowrimo experience!