What Is NaNo?

A black and white photograph of a group of writers working on laptops lined along a wall.

The idea of National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo — is as straightforward as its name: write 50,000 words in the space of November, beginning at the stroke of midnight on the 1st and continuing through to the last seconds of the 30th.

It sounds a daunting prospect, but like any large task once you break it down into sections it becomes less terrifying. 50,000 is 1,667 words a day, and you can break that down into any manageable chunk you desire: for instance, into four blocks of ~420 words, which can be sneaked into mornings, lunch breaks, and even during advert breaks when watching the TV.

What can you write? Anything your imagination can conceive. The NaNo forums cater for anything and everything, from fantasy to sci-fi, YA to erotica, murder mysteries to chick-lit. You don't even have to write fiction: NaNo Rebels write anything else they desire. Non-fiction, memoirs, poetry ... you're spoiled for choice.

But you can't start writing without a plot? Not true! "No plot, no problem!" is a well-known NaNo battle cry, and by a shocking coincidence is also the name of NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty's writing self-help book. It's also true. All you need is the kernel of an idea or the spark of inspiration. You can plot out more later, when you've got the bare bones of the story started, but who knows where that initial spark can take you?

The whole premise of the event is to encourage you to lower your horizons and just write. Conquer your fears, indulge your inner muse, and start your novel with the knowledge that, for this one month, quantity over quality is preferred. You can polish it later, create a more finely-tuned plot, but as the author Jodi Picoult says, "You can edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page."

The premise seems to have been working too: every year, tens of thousands of writers around the world fling themselves wholeheartedly into the challenge, and every year a vast proportion of those cross the finish line with at least 50,000 words (sometimes much more!), exhausted, thrilled and relieved.

If you want to find out more, head over to the NaNoWriMo website and browse the site, find forums for your preferred genre and location and take a peek at the FAQs — and above all don't be afraid to sign up and join in.

They say everyone has a novel inside them — hopefully more than one! — so take the plunge and explore yours.

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