Monday, August 31, 2009

Could You Write a Book in a Month?

A lot of people think they can – 119,000 people to be precise!

That’s how many signed up to the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) website last year to try and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (that’s about 1,666 words per day).

NaNoWriMo is the brainchild of Chris Baty who kicked it all off in July 1999 with just 21 people. But the idea has obviously scratched a creative itch for a lot of people and now, every year more people sign up and pass the magical 50,000 word target.

There is a full set of rules on the NaNoWriMo website but basically, starting at midnight November 1 people start churning out a novel which must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before 11:59:59 PM on November 30. Strictly speaking, of course, you will have had a year to think about your book and plan it accordingly but that’s okay as long as no previously written material is used.

Novels can be on any theme and in any genre and in any language. The definition of what is a novel is pretty relaxed. "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too,” say the organisers.

50,000 is pretty short for a novel but is a perfect length for Black Horse Westerns. (It’s not a novella which is generally agreed to be about 40,000 words.) Notable novels around 50,000 words include The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World and The Great Gatsby – proof if any were needed that a ‘short’ novel can punch way above its weight!

Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. What is really refreshing is that there is no prize - anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner and the only reward is the achievement of the finished novel.

So if you need a deadline to get down that best-selling novel you’ve sitting on for years, why not try NaNoWriMo this year? Chris Baty has also written “No Plot? No Problem” which is a guide to the whole process of trying to write a novel in 30 days.

I’m seriously considering doing it myself to see if I can churn out a BHW. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Good Luck!


  1. Good luck with that! I have mixed views on this. It's obviously a great idea to get people writing, but it also seems to cause a lot of angst. I've heard of plenty of writers who try, fail, then conclude they can't write, and yet it probably is just that not everyone's natural writing pattern is to churn out a first draft at warp 9.

    The same goes with the rewriting. The initiative encourages it, but most writers don't pick up on that bit and never bother. They just blast out 50,000 words then declare the task done and move on to something else. Yet it's the analysing and rewriting and thinking about what you've done that brings improvements, not just getting finger ache. I'm sure if I were to slap paint on a canvas every day for a month I wouldn't develop any artistic talent.

    So I think for some it's a great way to motivate and for novices it's a great way to make friends and dip a toe in the water, but I hope everyone who has a go accepts that the really important bit comes on December 1!

  2. Couldn't agree more. I read some author somewhere who said that writing is mostly about re-writing.

    Realistically, I don't think you would produce anything of quality doing this but if you were properly prepared, I reckon you could have good first draft.

    As usual with the process of writing it would suit some people and be a nightmare for others.

    Interesting though...

  3. I think that this is a dangerous thing.
    I like the idea of motivating people to write. And when they've done the reward is that the writer has acheived something. The downside is the disappointment that they may have written something that would be instantly rejected.
    Rather like pyramid selling - the promises are there but nothing else except debt and misery in it's wake.
    Like all good things you have to want to write in order to start. It can be done - just look at the output of BHW writers like Keith Hetherington and Michael D. George who seem to crop up on a monthly basis under various names.
    Whereas I will take as long as needs be just to get that first chapter right. It may be just my way but I guess if that first page and first chapter doesn't have enough bait in it then the reader won't be hooked.
    Motivation comes from within. Incentive comes from the bookshelves and the writers I admire. And I think - I want to be as good as them.

  4. Of course, on the other side of the coin, what many people need are deadlines to sort of 'brain dump' everything they've got onto the page.

    I'd be very surprisd if anybody thought they could sit for 30 days, write 1666 words and come out the other end with a publishable novel - if they do, they are very niave.

    I see this more as a good way of lightingthe fire. Some people may think that since they've taken the trouble to get 50,000 words down, then it would be a waste if they didn't go back and polish it until it was something worthwhile.

    I know I've written stuff that I didn't like, put it away and then after a while come back to it again and seen some patches of quality stuff and worked on the whole thing again.

    Might be a bit of fun to try it and see what happens...