What Is National Novel Writing Month and Why You Should Participate

Warning: This story starts and ends with a challenge. Choices have to be made. Read and walk away with insight. Read and walk away with the seed of an idea that will flex creativity, demand tenacity, and forever change the writer/story relationship. That, dear reader, demonstrates the powerful touch of National Novel Writing Month, henceforth discussed as NaNoWriMo.  

A Journey to the Past

Let’s flip back the calendar pages to June 1999. Now we are at the beginning of the challenge. The place is San Francisco. Picture a group of friends talking about the world as it was and dreaming about what they could do with it. The conversation is animated, especially when the topic of writing a novel, an entire novel, in a month rises to the surface. 

This group of writers (twenty-one in all) decided to take the challenge. Keeping in line with the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based) goals, the novel was defined as a story that contains at least 50,000 words. Two weeks later, July 1, 1999, Chris Baty and his friends launched their first NaNoWriMo.

Several fell to the wayside, the process too demanding. Many succeeded. All were changed. The month of writing every day, fighting with and for characters, battling distractions and fatigue, changed their appreciation for the art of storytelling. 

The Battle Continues

The next year, more joined the challenge, and it grew and grew. Last year, NaNoWriMo had 383,064 participants. The Young Writer’s Program had 97,439 students and educators. A lot of these writers worked from home, many worked in the 448 libraries, bookstores, and community centers that are part of the Come Write In program. 

The timing of NaNoWriMo changed too. Instead of meeting in July when the weather was perfect for outdoor activities, the date was changed to November. It gave people a chance to be productive when the weather kept them indoors anyway. 

Best sellers like Wool, Fan Girl, Cinder, and The Night Circus were products of NaNoWriMo. The Night Circus attests to the flexibility of NaNoWriMo. It was written over two NaNoWriMo years. In other words, falling short of meeting the challenge doesn’t connote failure. 

Join the Fray

Countless indie authors started with NaNoWriMo. 

If we set the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month aside, there is so much more to glean from the NaNoWriMo experience. Over the month of November, authors around the world will meet in person and virtually for sprints, cheering each other on. People who volunteer as municipal liaisons coordinate the meetings. Twitter has round the clock sprinting sessions where people check in and share their progress. YouTubers post videos with tips and inspiration.

The NaNoWriMo website is loaded with materials to keep an author going. It has a personal progress bar, stats for the authors in geographical communities, badges, chats to connect with other authors, and inspirational notes delivered to the inbox. 

The beauty of the NaNoWriMo challenge is far greater than writing a book at the end of the month. Yes, that is awesome. But it also brings authors together. It debunks the myth of writers consuming copious quantities of coffee while pounding away at the keyboard, begging the muse for inspiration, alone. When the author accepts the gauntlet, they receive more than a story.  Win or lose, 50k words or 500, on December 1st, those who attempted the challenge, walk with a confident limp in their ego. 

Will you be one of them? 

Works Cited

“14 NaNoWriMo Books That Have Been Published.” Mental Floss, 5 Nov. 2015, Published Novels Written During NaNoWriMo | Mental Floss.

Baty, Chris. No Plot? No Problem!: a Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. Chronicle Books, 2014.

Burt, Kayti, et al. “7 Books That Started As NaNoWriMo Novels.” Den of Geek, 2 Nov. 2018,

“National Novel Writing Month.” Wikiwrimo,

Picture of Merri Maywether

Merri Maywether

Merri Maywether lives with her husband in rural Montana. You can find her in the town's only coffee house listening to three generations of Montanans share their stories. Otherwise, she's in the classroom or the school library, inspiring the next generation's writers.

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