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#NaNoWriMo: Writing 50K in 30 Days

#NaNoWriMo: Writing 50K in 30 Days

What is NaNoWriMo?


National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.
Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

How and when can I sign up? Is there an entry fee?

You can sign-up year-round! To sign up for the upcoming National Novel Writing Month, just click on the "Sign Up Now" box at the top of the site (right above "National), and fill out the User Registration form.

Kapow! You're officially signed up for National Novel Writing Month.

There's no sign-up fee for National Novel Writing Month, but we do ask ably-financed participants to contribute something towards hosting and administrative costs. Because we're a nonprofit, the donation is tax-deductible! The amount you contribute is up to you.

How do I update my word count?

You can update your word count by entering your total cumulative word count in the field on the top of your screen and hitting "update". You can also use the novel info module to update your word count.

The word count module (and other novel info like title, genre, synopsis, and cover art) is in your profile page.

To find it, go to My NaNoWriMo in the main menu, then click "Edit Novel Info".

You have two options here:
  1. Word Count: Simply enter your total cumulative word count (no punctuation please, just numbers) in this box, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click submit.
  2. Word Count Validator: Copy the entire contents of your novel, and paste it into this box.
    Scroll to the bottom of the page, and click submit. Our word count robots will count your words, then delete the file unseen by human eyes. We don't keep a copy of your novel anywhere on our site.
    This option may be greyed out during times of high traffic. During those times, just update your count manually. After November 25th, the word count validator can be used to validate your novel and claim winner status.
All methods of updating your word count will overwrite the previous entry in the database. If you enter the incorrect word count, simply update it again with the correct one.

When and how do I start writing? Do I have to write my novel on your site?

You begin writing at 12:00:01 AM local time on November 1. You write your novel off-line, on whatever word processor you like. If you write 50,000 words or more, you upload the manuscript to our site between November 25 and November 30 for word-count verification to win.

Is there a minimum age to participate?

You must be 13 or older to have an account on NaNoWriMo.org. But all ages are very welcome to take part in National Novel Writing Month, and we encourage younger writers to sign up over at NaNoWriMo's Young Writers Program website. It's a similar challenge for participants 12 and under, as well as those participating as part of a K-12 classroom group.

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program participants get to choose their own word-count goal for November, and also have access to great noveling workbooks and fun, kid-oriented writing activities. Like NaNoWriMo, membership in the Young Writers Program is free.

How do you win NaNoWriMo and what are the prizes?

The way to win NaNoWriMo is by writing 50,000 words by midnight on November 30. Every year, there are many, many winners. There are no "Best Novel" or "Quickest-Written Novel" awards given out. All winners will get an official "Winner" web badge and a PDF Winner's Certificate.

The real prize in NaNoWriMo is the manuscript itself, and the exhilarating feeling of setting an ambitious creative goal and nailing it. And the $1,000,000.

Just kidding about the $1,000,000!

The actual winning process works like this: From 12:00:01 AM, local time, November 25 until 11:59:59 PM, local time, on November 30, all participants who have written more than 50,000 words can have their winning word counts verified by our site. Uploading your novel to the Word Count Validator makes your NaNoWriMo victory official, gets you listed on our Winners Page, and routes you to the secret spot where you can collect this year's winner's certificate. It will also turn your word count bar purple.

To become a winner, first make sure that you have written a manuscript that is 50,000 words or longer. Then sign in to the site, click on Edit Profile, then scroll down to the area labeled Word Count Validator. Copy and paste your entire novel into this box. Then hit the "Submit" button, and prepare for your accolades.

We understand that you may be reluctant to upload your novel to a random website, even to one as winsome as ours. If you are using Microsoft Word it is very easy to completely scramble your novel before uploading it in a way that will not affect its word count.


1. Open the file and make a new copy of your novel using 'Save As...'
2. Open the Find and Replace dialog box (Edit -> Replace).
3. Click the "More" button to expand the box.
4. Check the "Use Wildcards" checkbox.
5. In the "Find What" field, put this: [a-zA-Z0-9] (include the square brackets, no spaces before or after)
6. In the "Replace With" field, put this: a
7. Click "Replace All"
8. Select All (Ctrl+A) and Copy & Paste into the validator!


The procedure for Open Office is essentially the same, except that Open Office refers to 'Regular Expressions' instead of 'Wildcards'. (Thanks to Peter Dudley for this advice!)
You can get the same effect in a more cumbersome way by just doing a find-and-replace on every letter in the alphabet, one letter at a time. Open the find-and-replace interface on your word processing program and tell it to replace every "b" in your story with an "a," and every "c" with an "a," then every "d" with an "a." And so on.

We realize that people can cheat and upload something that's not a novel and still "win." But since the only real prize of NaNoWriMo is the self-satisfaction that comes with pulling off such a great, creative feat, we don't really worry too much about people cheating. Those who upload 50,000 words they copied from Wikipedia.org just to see their name on the Winner's page are pitiful indeed, and likely need more help than a downloadable winner's certificate can provide them.

Can I participate if I'm not American? Are non-English novels okay?

You bet! We are very proud to be an international event, and don't consider the "National" in the title to refer to the United States. This is an event for all nations. We'd change the name to "International Novel Writing Month," but InNoWriMo doesn't roll off the tongue in quite the same way.

You can write novels in any language you like. Our validator doesn't handle non-Latin characters sets, sadly, so there may be an issue with becoming an official winner. But this is just icing on the NaNoWriMo cake, and we encourage you to write in whatever language is most comfortable for you.

What happens to all the novels written for NaNoWriMo? Has anyone been published?

Novels that are uploaded to us for verification and victory between November 25 and November 30 are counted by a computer script, and then automatically deleted. We do not read or keep any novels sent in, and NaNoWriMo authors retain all rights to everything they write during the event.

Many, many winning novels have been written through NaNoWriMo. Our stats:

1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5,000 participants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners
2006: 79,000 participants and 13,000 winners
2007: 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners
2008: 119,301participants and 21,683 winners

And a growing number of these novels have found publishers, including one New York Times #1 Bestseller!

Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it?

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

Why 50,000 words? And how do you define "novel"?

Our experiences over the past nine years show that 50,000 is a difficult but doable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. The length makes it a short novel. We don't use the word "novella" because it doesn't seem to impress people the way "novel" does.
We define a novel as "a lengthy work of fiction." Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you're writing falls under the heading of "novel." In short: If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too.

Can I share writing duties with a partner?

No. But we would like to take this opportunity to plug our Script Frenzy event. Script Frenzy participants write a 100-page stage play or screenplay in April, and for Script Frenzy you are welcome to work with a partner.

Can I write one word 50,000 times?

No. Well... No.

You can find the answers to more questions about this event at http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/faq

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