Books: NaNoWriMo ’08 Set to Begin, in SF and Worldwide
In 1999, Chris Baty had the harebrained idea to write an entire novel in a single month. The reasoning was simple: if you could write about seven double-spaced pages a day, for thirty days, you’d end up with about 215 pages. And how hard could that be?
Baty told all his friends and enemies about his plan, and somehow, he got twenty other people to join him on the journey. They had a lot of fun and talked about doing it the next year, in November (“to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather,” as he writes in this detailed history). And that is really where the whole thing should have ended.
Except, it didn’t. The next year, when Baty enlisted his friends, they enlisted theirs, and 140 people signed up for the ride. The same kind of thing happened the next year. Except: instead of 140 people, five thousand people signed up, overwhelming Baty and those who had agreed to help him manually process the signups. (They learned how to automate things in a hurry.) And those numbers have grown larger every year: last time around, there were more than 100,000 participants, and there’s no reason to expect any fewer this time. In fact, the contest has attracted so many participants that Baty and his colleagues have been able to build an ambitious nonprofit organization around it: the Oakland-based Office of Letters and Light. In addition to NaNoWriMo, the organization sponsors a script-writing event and a youth-oriented version of each contest.
Tens of thousands of people have met the basic challenge — technically, you must tell a complete story in at least 50,000 words to win — but more than two dozen of those winners have gone on to achieve something a little tricker: publication of their manuscripts by commercial publishers. Unbelievably, one of those, Sara Gruen, wrote a book that actually became a New York Times #1 Best Seller (after much revision, I’m sure): Water For Elephants.
However, the best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s not about publication; it’s about being creative and having as much fun as possible. And that can mean getting to know your fellow “novelers.” If you sign up on the website to participate, you’ll have access to the regional forums, where people are already planning “write-ins” (group writing sessions) all over San Francisco and the East Bay. Maybe I’ll see you at one of them.
The contest begins Saturday, November 1st, and participation is free. Happy noveling!