NaNoWriMo – A Bunch of Syllables or a Literary Movement?

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When you hear November, you might think of the transition between fall and winter. Thanksgiving and No Shave November. Native American Heritage Month. American Diabetes Month. BLACK FRIDAY. Sweet Potato Awareness Month. The month Beaujolais nouveau is released (a big deal for us wine lovers).


However, if you’re a literary nerd, you’ll know its National Novel Writing Month. Also known as NaNoWriMo, the slogan of the program is “thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon!” Sounds fun, but what is it specifically? The goal is to complete a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. This is approximately 1,667 words everyday. NaNoWriMo began in 1999 to motivate a small group of writer friends and has since become an Internet sensation. The website can keep track of your words, introduce you to other writers in your genre, and help keep you motivated.  There’s no prize for completing the challenge or failing, but I’m sure it feels pretty good to have written something of such magnitude.

Full confession: I actually tried this once.  It was either in high school or freshman year here at W&L but I honestly can’t remember.  Couldn’t tell you the plot but I’m pretty sure I was going for a Donna Tartt The Secret History ripoff, except made for teens at boarding school. Real work and real papers apparently got in the way and I stopped. And that leads me to my biggest question: who the heck has time for this? Legitimate authors make time for their work. Can any new phenoms appear from the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo?

Clearly, I’m setting this up for some favorable outcomes. Of COURSE there have been 43641successful novelists. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen is perhaps the biggest success story. It was on bestseller lists for over a year and was made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. Enough said. Then there’s The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which tells me got great reviews and was also on the NYT bestseller list. I actually want to check this one out.  Additionally, Wool by Hugh Howey was mentioned after the first two by both Barnes and Noble and Mental Floss so I’ll just go ahead and assume it’s also a good book. It sounds kind of like an Anthem/ The Road crossover but the movie rights have already been purchased by 20th Century Fox. When movie rights are purchased early, the book is probably great. Fact.

However, many people have reservations about NaNoWriMo. Some think NaNoWriMo novelists are just a bunch of amateur writers who think they’ve written the next Twilight. The slogan “No Plot? No Problem!” can actually result in an onslaught of plotless, poorly thought out novels. Literary agents are rumored to receive a much larger influx of slush directly after November. Also there is the issue that some people write at different speeds than others. Laura Miller of Salon puts her reservations rather scathingly: “Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the instance that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read.” Personally, I am a fan of the Twitter hashtag, #NaNoWriMoOpeners, which mock the, often silly, nature of books people attempt to write during this period. Some of my favorites?

@timmeehan66: I didn’t kill my ex-wife. But, what if I did?

@boring_as_heck: The novelization of Wild Wild West was, quite frankly, pedestrian.” They would be his last words. I unsheathed my katana.

@woodmuffin: “You’ll never get away with this!” she cried in her cell “I’m a famous Disney star!” Obama cackled, “Is that so, Raven??”

You get the picture.

But even though there are the sassy literary-minded people who think the idea of unleashing a bunch of plebeians to run amok with their fan-fictions and their MacBook Pros is stupid, I think there’s a good side to NaNoWriMo. The point is that no matter what you’re writing about, no matter your skill level, you should write.  It doesn’t matter if it gets published or not as long as it makes the writer happy. One day I hope I’ll have the time to participate because I think, if nothing else, it would be a lot of fun. After all, isn’t that what writing is about?

P.S. Wikipedia informs me it is also National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). Here I am, posting a blog. How timely.

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3 Responses to NaNoWriMo – A Bunch of Syllables or a Literary Movement?

  1. R.T. Smith says:

    To write something as long as a novel, I’d need both the incentive offered by the celebratory month and a full month of no papers to grade, but what I’d like to see is a month dedicated to writing a crime or detective novel, sleuth immersion with a nationally-endorsed support system. My dual reservations are that I’d quit at Thanksgiving and that I wouldn’t want to read it myself. As a path to literary achievement, it’s probably not very reliable, but as an exercise in discipline, maybe worth a try. So far, I have just my title: Possum by Starlight.

  2. Annie Persons says:

    I completely agree that the point of NaNoWriMo is to write. Even if you don’t publish a whole novel, I bet you could get a good start and cultivate some ideas in the time you spent frantically writing. Often when I brainstorm for an essay, I find that the majority of the writing in my first draft isn’t great, but there’s always a few nuggets that I grasp onto. I imagine that writing a novel probably starts off the same way for many authors.

  3. Tyler Van Riper says:

    I’m truly surprised that I recognize a number of the NaNoWriMo novels that Taylor cites. It makes me wonder how many other well-known, reputable authors have participated in this month, even if it didn’t yield a best-seller or a polished, published novel. Getting into the groove of writing daily seems like such a challenge, and I can imagine that participating in NaNoWriMo would be a fun and beneficial exercise for professional writers.

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