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National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo, is a novel-writing challenge that takes place every November. Participants begin writing on November first with a goal of completing a 50,000-word novel from scratch by the end of the month.
It is also 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Upon signing up, users gain posting privileges on the website's forum and a user profile in which they can post a basic profile about themselves as well as a summary, excerpt, and cover for their novel. On the front page of this profile are any Profile Badges that the user has earned.
The challenge begins at midnight on November 1st (local time), and ends on November 30th at 11:59:59 (local time). From November 25-30, members can verify their wordcount by copy/pasting their novel into the NaNoWriMo word counter under user pages. If the automated validator counts over 50,000 words, the word count bar turns purple and the Wrimo is listed as a winner. Upon validation, users will receive a winner icon, a certificate and access to other "Winner Goodies".
- Main article: NaNoWriMo forums
The NaNoWriMo forums experience high to very high activity during October and November, medium-high to high activity during Camp NaNo and the month immediately before Camp NaNo, and still have medium-low to medium-high activity during the off-season. They are a place for research, memes, plot ideas, Adoptables, and just hanging out (and procrastinating, another traditional NaNo activity). Wrimos can ask questions and get answers about their novels, about NaNo itself, or about nearly anything. The forums themselves present a literary adventure, with some of the forums, such as the roleplaying and procrastination forums creating entire mini-cultures within the forums. The Sense of Community is very strong.
- Looking for NaNo stats? See NaNoWriMo statistics.
The first year
NaNoWriMo was founded by Chris Baty in July 1999. Twenty other people participated that year, all from the San Francisco Bay Area. The project began not because Baty and his friends had ideas for the great American novel but because they "wanted to write novels for the same dumb reasons twentysomethings start bands". After grabbing the shortest novel on his shelf (which happened to be Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) and doing a rough word count, the number that Wrimos today strive for was set in stone. Six of the twenty-one participants, including Baty, completed the challenge. After 1999, NaNoWriMo was moved from July to November to take advantage of the miserable weather.
The pre-forum era
2000 was a year of firsts for NaNoWriMo. It was the first year that NaNoWriMo had a website, calling nanowrimo.com home. It was the first year of the Yahoo! group. 2000 was also the first year of rules, as Wrimos started to ask Chris Baty what they could write. That year Baty verified the winning novels himself by running a word counter on each novel. The event had 140 participants and 29 winners.
In 2001, the event became much more popular when 5000 participants showed up. Like the year before, Baty (with the help of some friends) entered each participant into the system and invited them to the Yahoo! group manually but eventually had to put a deadline on signing up because of the volume of participants. The NaNoWriMo.com site was encouraged to find a new webhost due to consuming the resources of the other sites on the server. When he announced that official validation would be canceled that year due to the number of winners, participants validated each other's novels. In the end, over 700 participants were validated.
The early age of the forums
In 2002 Chris Baty came across Dan Sanderson, who created most of the features Wrimos associate with NaNoWriMo today. Sanderson introduced the automatic word counter, which relieved Chris and the participants of having to do any validation. Sanderson also introduced the blue bar, which turned green upon reaching 50,000 words and purple upon validation, and the phpBB forums, which meant that Wrimos could finally communicate in a less confusing medium than Yahoo! groups.
The NaNoWriMo site also moved to NaNoWriMo.org that year, and the PHPBB forums, like the Yahoo! groups, became an instant hub of activity with its own culture. Discussions of urinal cakes and dares abounded. Plot quandaries were asked and answered. Wrimos who ordered NaNo shirts wondered why they received something completely different from what they originally ordered, likely not realizing that Chris was packing the orders right out of his own living room. 2002 also saw 13,500 participants and about 2,100 winners.
2002 was also the first year of Municipal Liaisons, which enabled local Wrimos to find each other more easily. Regional Lounges were created in the NaNo forums, and Wrimos got together for Write-ins and other get-togethers. Lauren Ayer joined the NaNo staff in 2003 to be a contact person for the MLs, and Julia Cardis joined the NaNo team to help with duties such as answering emails and overseeing donations and t-shirt sales. Russ Uman also signed on to become the man behind the impressive coding of a larger Nanowrimo.org site. 2003 had 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners.
2004 saw yet more additions to staff, with Jeff Fassnacht becoming the site's graphic designer (including the iconic running man, Ellen Martin becoming the head of what would become the Young Writers Program in the next year, Erin Allday as co-ML mistress (ML Mistress in 2006, etc.), and Hyland Baron as Managing Director, taking over for Julia Cardis. Cybele May would also join in the next year as the forum moderator. 2004 had 42,000 participants and just under 6,000 winners.
2005 saw massive growth with the creation of Young Writers Program and use of Xoops Software, along with the creation of WrimoRadio by Sam Hallgren and Flash-based author profiles that resembled library books. That year Chris Baty decided to give packing the orders himself another shot, packing all the orders from the warehouse of the Flash programmer who wrote the author profiles (and who conveniently happened to be living in France through October and November). Over 100 schools participated along with 4,000 solo writers. Adult participants numbered 59,000, 9,769 won the challenge.
During this period, Nanowrimo also partnered with Room to Read, and donated over $43,000 to build children's libraries in southeast Asia. A new store was also set up, with the do-it-yourself shipping getting a new life on a table made from a bowling alley.
The Era of OLL
In 2006, Baty and his staff went through the process of making NaNo into a nonprofit, dubbing it the Office of Letters and Light and welcoming Tavia Stewart Streit to the staff as a managing editor. The event grew to 79,813 participants and 12,948 winners. The 06-07 off-season saw the creation of the Big Fun Scary Things board in the December and Beyond category of the forums. 2006 also saw the beginning of corporate sponsorships.
In 2007, NaNo switched from Xoops to Drupal and grew to 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners. This year also saw the beginning of Script Frenzy, Grants, Author Pep Talks, and The Night of Writing Dangerously. Despite some financial shortfalls, the event was highly successful and a December YWP novel-reading event at a Berkeley, CA bookstore was breathtaking. Tavia replaced Erin Allday as ML Mistress/Community Liaison.
2008 had 119,301 participants and 21,683 winners and saw a switch to Lindsey Grant as the community liaison so that Tavia could focus more on her duties as managing editor. 2009 saw the creation of NaNoVideo (to replace WriMo Radio) and Come Write In, along with 167,150 participants and a shocking 32,178 winners.
Ruby on Rails and Camp
Some high points to cover. These incomplete eras are rough approximations. Feel free to change them up if you think something else works better.
- Retiring Script Frenzy
- 2011 new NaNo site
- Camp NaNoWriMo's beginnings
- Dropping the OLL name to officially be National Novel Writing Month (the nonprofit)
- There should probably be an era between this and the new site and pandemic but Sushi isn't sure what
Discourse and the Pandemic
High points to cover:
- A new NaNoWriMo website in 2019
- The pandemic and how that affected NaNo
Nano in the Media
- See the main article: NaNoWriMo in the News
NaNo has had several media articles, in a variety of outlets. Some recent examples include:
The Good Word: Local authors brace themselves for NaNoWriMo The Columbia Daily Tribune, Nov 2020
NaNoWriMo, pandemic style: writing as self care Illinois State University News, Nov 2020
Published Nano Novels
The most well-known Nano novel to become published is Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants", which became a New York Times Bestseller, as well as being adapted as a feature-length film. A large number of other novels have also been professionally published, and tons have been self-published through createspace and other self-publishing options.
- National Novel Writing Month's official website
- NaNoWriMo's staff-written history, 1999-2013 (Sourced from the Wayback Machine, 27 April 2021)
- NaNoWriMo's Twitter page
- NaNoWriMo's Facebook page
- NaNoWriMo's Instagram page
- NaNoWriMo's YouTube page
- NaNoWriMo's Flickr group
- A previous version of the NaNo concept, translated by the French Wrimos (en français)
- A previous version of the NaNo history, translated by the French Wrimos (en français)
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