Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day Ten: NaNoWriMo--the Short Version

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) began in July 1999 with twenty-one people, including founder Chris Baty, each setting out to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Now, in its eleventh year, that small number has grown to 158,716 people registered, who have adopted that goal as their own. In the official history on the NaNoWriMo website, Chris refers to that first year of "noveling" as "half literary marathon and half block party."

By the second year, they had a website, moved the event to November, and had 140 people sign up, including some from Canada. A Yahoo group was added, along with a set of guidelines to govern the NaNo process. These included the minimum total word count, the deadline, the statement that the writing had to be the original work of a single author, and it had to be a novel. Of the 140 who had begun on November 1, twenty-one reached the 50,000 word goal by midnight on November 30. In celebration, two more components were added: a star by the name of each person who reached the goal, and a "Thank God It's Over" party for those who lived close enough to attend.

Anticipating modest growth for year three, the NaNo website and those in charge were totally unprepared for the 5000 who registered. Bloggers had discovered NaNo, and their readers were enthusiastic about the project. Then the newspapers got wind of it. With help from several friends, Chris managed to get everyone registered before the figurative starting gun sounded. However, other problems surfaced ranging from the physical (painful wrists for those trying to get everyone registered) to the technical (overwhelming the small web-host's ability to host the rapidly growing site, hackers, and an overcrowded Yahoo club). Some of the problems were resolved when participants created regional boards, volunteered to validate each other's word counts, and one of the key elements of NaNo was born--mutual support and encouragement among those taking part. The one area lacking was financial support to keep the organization going.

Over the next two years, a new computer program made reinstatement of official word counts possible, colorful graphics were added, new forums created, t-shirt sales helped raise revenue along with donations, and the number of participants jumped from 5000 to 14,000. NanoWriMo received the attention of NPR's "All Things Considered," CBS News, and even the BBC in Scotland! The position of Municipal Liaison was created. These volunteers served locally, offering encouragement and support to participants in their own regions. In addition, two staff members were added to help answer e-mails and deal with technical issues, respectively. There were still glitches from time to time but, by 2003, there were 25,000 people participating, including a monk from India.

Year six brought a new site design, new logo (the running man with pen), additional staff, and 42,000 adult participants. In addition, school teachers were promoting NaNo among their students. In 2004, NaNo partnered with the children's literacy program "Room to Read" and the Cambodian Libraries program was born. Chris was also busy with a book tour for his book "No Plot, No Problem," which he referred to as "a NaNo survival guide." While on the book tour, he discovered that NaNo had spread to colleges and even "real" writers were taking part.

The following year, server problems caused the site to crash repeatedly on opening day. By making some adjustments, the month progressed without further serious malfunctions. In 2005, they sublet a warehouse space which not only accommodated the NaNo t-shirts that had been ordered, but gave them a base of operations. New author pages were added for participants, and the "Young Writers Program," which involved 4000 children in 150 schools, began on another site. Those in the youth program set their own word count goals. It was also in 2005 that WriMoRadio began, with podcasts of participants' stories about their experiences with NaNo, as well as readings of excerpts from some NaNo-novels. The year was also a financial success.

While in Scotland for several weeks, Chris heard an announcement on the radio for Scotland's "Write Here, Right Now" contest. BBC Scotland had interviewed him years before. Apparently, they'd come up with their own variation of NaNoWriMo in which people tried to write 28,000 words during the month of February, and sent participants daily pep talk e-mails. This encouraged Chris to begin the process of turning NaNoWriMo into a non-profit entity complete with a board of directors, an official name--"The Office of Letters and Light"--and an office. Non-profit status was confirmed the night before NaNoWriMo 2006 began. With the website sluggish, not uncommon on the first few days, Chris accidentally discovered that NaNoWriMo was featured on Yahoo's front page. Overnight, an additional 7000 people registered. Likewise, the Young Writers Program jumped from 4000 to 15,000 students, and several colleges added NaNo as part of their course offerings. By this time, thirteen manuscripts by NaNoWriMo writers had been published, including Sara Gruen's bestseller, Water for Elephants.

At the close of NaNo in 2007, to keep the momentum going, Chris started "The Year of Big, Fun, Scary Adventures" during which people would do something they had wanted to do but had kept putting off--anything from learning another language to starting a business. You won't find this next tidbit in the official NaNoWriMo history, but 2007 was also my first year doing NaNo.

There had been many requests from people for additional NaNo-type events so, in 2007, "Script-Frenzy" was born, and a new staff person hired to run it. Eight thousand people participated that first April, with two websites: one for adults, another for children and teens.

When November rolled around, the number of people enrolled in NaNoWriMo crossed the 100,000 mark and the youth program had 366 schools participating from such diverse places as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Sweden. In addition, The Office of Letters and Light received their first foundation grant, held their first major fund-raiser, and had celebrity authors write pep talks. While these were exciting, there were also problems. Site issues that had been resolved in the past, along with the other pressures, threatened to overwhelm the staff. One thing that helped to lift spirits was a December Young Writers Program at a local bookstore, where children and youth who had written books during NaNo in November, got to read them and were rewarded with enthusiastic applause.

November 2008 was the tenth anniversary of NaNoWriMo, but Chris was so busy getting things ready for this year, he hasn't had time to update the history, yet. I've tried to give you a brief summary of the bare bones of NaNo from its inception to the present. The official history, written by Chris Baty, is far more complete and was my source for this post. You can read it for yourself on the NaNo website at http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/history. However, it might be best to wait until December, though, so as not to crash the site for those who are engaged in writing their novels this month. And perhaps next year, you'd like to try NaNoWriMo for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment