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National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, is an annual online-based project in which participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.
Freelance writer Chris Baty (shown below) launched National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in July 1999 at the age of 26. He gathered 20 of his friends around San Francisco, CA, many of whom were not writers, just to see if they could. Of the group, only six participants completed the challenge of writing an entire 50,000 word novel from start to finish, taking the arbitrary word count from a guesstimated word count of the shortest novel on Baty’s shelf, Aldous Huxley’s 1931 sci-fi novel Brave New World.
2000: Website Launch
In 2000, a friend of Baty designed a website for the challenge and the group chose to move the start date from July to November to “take advantage of the miserable weather.” That year, 140 people participated from across the globe and Baty chose to set up a Yahoo! Group so participants could discuss their processes with each other. This also led to the creation of the first set of rules for the challenge: the novel must be new, must be written by one person, and must be submitted by midnight Pacific time on November 30th to be verified. That year, Baty verified the word count on the submissions himself, with 29 completed novels that year.
2001: News Media Coverage
The next year, Baty expected a similar amount of participants. However, after mentions on MetaFilter, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and NPR’s All Things Considered more than 5000 people, each registered for the site by hand by Baty, signed up. That year, a LiveJournal community was also established for participants who were not on Yahoo! to discuss their progress. Due to the volume of completed novels, it was announced that there would be no official validation that year. Instead, participants chose to validate each other’s works.
In 2002, Dan Sanderson helped modernize the site by creating new progress bars for participants, upgraded forums and an official automatic word counter. That year, 14,000 people signed up, thanks to additional news media coverage from the BBC, NPR and CBS Evening News. By the fifth year of the challenge, Baty began encouraging participants to create their own local chapters for NaNoWriMo, as a way to help foster participation on a smaller community basis. By 2004, more than 42,000 writers registered for the challenge. That year, Baty also published the book “No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days” (shown below) both chronicling his experience with NaNoWriMo and providing a guide for aspiring writers on how arbitrary goals help foster creation.
Presence in Social Media
As of November 2012, NaNoWriMo has expanded its online presence to include an official Twitter account, Flickr pool and Facebook fan page. Communication between participants is not limited to official avenues, as progress, ideas, tips and frustrations are shared on Twitter and Tumblr via the hashtag #nanowrimo.
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News Media Coverage
Over the years, NaNoWriMo has received significant attention from a variety of news and literature related outlets. Between 2010 and 2012, the challenge has been featured on the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and publishing blog Galleycat, among others. Additionally, some of these reports, including articles on TIME Magazine and Slate, discourage people from participating in NaNoWriMo, citing the fact that the challenge encourages people to often write mercilessly without editing their work. This leads to shopping the unedited piece to publishers before revisions, leading to discouragement when the writer is rejected.
Successfully Published Books
As of October 2012, more than 90 completed NaNoWriMo projects have been turned into published novels. Some of the earliest published novels appeared in 2006 including Rebecca Agiewich’s BreakupBabe and Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants (shown below, left), which was later adapted into a 2001 romantic drama film. Other novels have been named as New York Times Bestsellers including Erin Morgenstern’s 2011 novel The Night Circus (shown below, center) and Marissa Meyer’s 2012 Cinderella-inspired young adult novel Cinder (shown below, right).
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