Wednesday 22 October 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 37: “It came from SAN FRANCISCO!”

November is nearly upon us.

For some that means growing a porn style moustache. For others it’s counting down to the opening of that first advent calendar window.

For nearly half a million people across the globe it is all about one thing; 50,000 words in 30 days.


It’s weird for writers to think of a world without NaNoWriMo. It’s become something truly massive in its 15 year history. Thousands and thousands of writers from across the globe are brought together and for one month they all type away in an attempt to hit that magic target, shunning anything that could get in their way like friends, family, television and sleep.

It started deep within San Francisco when 21 wannabe authors got together and decided that it’s better to shoot first and ask questions later. And they were right. Why waste time editing chapter two if you’ve only got two chapters? Do you go for a ten mile run but re-tread your steps every hundred meters in case you’ve missed something? Of course not.

And so during the July of 1999 the pioneers of this crazy ethic got to it and, tapped up on caffeine, got to novelling.


And that could have been it; just a group of friends that got together each year and sat down for a few weeks to write, drink and be merry. But, like most things that are successful, the people behind it had ideas . . . big ideas.

With a website built for the following year, the invites we sent out to friends. As with a lot of things in this fast moving world sometimes new things are hard to control. You see their friends received the invites and passed them on to their friends who probably passed it on to their friends. By November 2000 the original 21 had become 140.

Of course if you know anything about the current state of NaNoWriMo you’ll know that that’s nothing.


It grew.

1999 – 21 participants

2000 – 140 participants

2001 – 3000 participants

2002 – 14,000 participants

The website buckled and was then made bigger and better as more and more people joined each year. More staff were employed. Merchandise was sold from posters and mugs to pens and stickers.

The group formed a non-profit organisation (The Office of Letters and Light) and set up lots of other writing programs to spread out across the year. There was Script Frenzy (now deceased I believe) which was NaNo for screenplays. There’s the Young Writers Program which is focused on kids and helping to supply librarians and school teachers with lesson plans. And of course there’s CampNaNoWriMo, a more relaxed writing month (April and July) which gives the author more control and freedom over their projects for a month; anything from Novellas and novels to scripts and graphic novels. At Camp it’s all good.

But November is what it’s all about for most. Writers find their projects sometimes months in advance and they plan their plot and characters (or not if you read last week’s post) ready for when midnight strikes and October becomes November.

It’s all about getting those words on the page, about discovering things you didn’t know about you characters and creating something that most people will be too scared to ever attempt in their lives; a first draft.

Once November is over that’s when you look back and begin the next stage.

And it’s not just people who mess around in their spare time and write a little fan fiction for a month before then post their self-staring Buffy / Transformers crossover on Wattpad. Some real success by what the rest of the world would call ‘real writers’ has been born from the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. So now participants can point out to non-believers who won’t give them the peace and quiet that they require to accomplish this mammoth of tasks and shout “LEAVE ME ALONE OR MY AWESOME NOVEL WILL NEVER GET MADE INTO A MOVIE!”.


Next week I’ll delve into my own history with NaNoWriMo. I’ll discuss the highs and the lows, the successful attempts and the failures, from 2007 to the present. And after that let the mayhem begin.

I already have a couple of buddies join me on the NaNoWriMo site, ready to go in just 10 days’ time. Feel free to join us (I’m under Brian S Creek). The more the merrier.

See you in seven.

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