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NaNoWriMo: The endurance test that may lead to a bestseller

November is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, when Great American Novelists scramble to write 50,000-word manuscripts in 30 days. What began as a 21-person contest in 1999 is now led by an Executive Director (Grant Faulkner, no relation to William) and has become a literary success, with nearly half a million people daring to take the plunge in 2015.

Since there are so many applicants, NaNoWriMo has strict rules:

  • Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.
  • No one is allowed to start early and finish 30 days from that start point.
  • Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
  • Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
  • Participants’ novels can be on any fiction genre of fiction, including fan fiction and metafiction.

The goal is not to become the next Faulkner but, like Rocky, just to go the distance. If you make it to 50,000 words by 11:59:59 p.m on November 30th, you’ve won. It’s that easy. Or not—the organizers say that participants must write at least 1,667 words every day to reach the finish line. That can be daunting if you miss a day … or two … and then find yourself, like in high school, scrambling to write page after page at the last minute.

That’s not to say all the effort isn’t worth it. Laura Apperson, an editor at St. Martin’s Press, told Publishers Weekly, “It’s been wonderful for the publishing industry.” Three St. Martin’s novels: Lydia Netzer’s “Shine Shine Shine,” Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl,” and Nora Zelevansky’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” were all published by St. Martin’s, but began as NaNoWriMo projects. “If you have a community, you’re a lot more motivated to write; you’re a lot more motivated to start shopping your book around.” And, like a Spin Cycle trainer, NaNoWriMo keeps its authors constantly moving with pep talks, in-person events, and online communities, where people cheer each other on while taking their 10th coffee break of the day.

So now that you’ve done reading this article, why not try your hand at writing a novel? You only need to write 5,001 words by the end of today to catch up. May those with the most endurance win. (Oh wait, they will!)

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