November is National Novel Writing Month

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the country and around the world join in the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (about 175 pages) in just one month. It sounds crazy, but it’s not as hard as you might think. After all, it’s only 1,667 words per day.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, was started in 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty. The first year, it was a local event in the San Francisco area, with just 21 writers participating, but it grew quickly. Participation grew to 140 writers in 2000, over 5,000 in 2001, and nearly 14,000 in 2002, and the numbers have continued to grow through last year, when over 250,000 people signed up through the website, writing a combined total of over 3 billion words. Meanwhile, the new Young Writers Program went into 2,000 classrooms and enlisted 50,000 kids to start writing.

50,000 words is pretty short for a novel. In fact, these days, 70,000 is preferred even for a breezy romance, but 50,000 is the equal of The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. At the same time, it sounds like a lot of writing in one month, and it is hard work. The most I’ve ever written in one month was 28,000 words, and that was in July, when I didn’t have classes; but 1 in 7 people who sign up for NaNoWriMo succeed in finishing 50,000 words, and more than a few have been published. Probably the most famous book to come out of NaNoWriMo was Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a writer, this is good time to do it, because you can find lots of support from other writers both online and offline. Even if you don’t think you can hit 50,000 words, you can set your own lower, unofficial goal and work toward that (which I’ve done a couple times). Or you can set a higher goal if you want. I know at least one person who has written 100,000 words in a month. The important thing is to start writing and keep writing. In this case, quantity is more important than quality. Quality is important, of course, but it does you no good until you actually put the words on the page.

So will I be going for 50,000 words this November? Not exactly. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten myself into a position where I have a backlog of editing to do–two novels and several short stories. So my goal this November is to edit 50,000 words. Check back in a month to see how it goes, and in the meantime, think about setting a goal of your own.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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