November, for many people around the world, either means Movember or NaNoWriMo. While Movember is far better known, the National Novel Writing Month Challenge is surely the more daunting of the two. The challenge, known informally as NaNoWriMo, gives participants 30 days to write a 50,000 words novel. That’s just fewer than 1,700 words every day.
I have been partaking in NaNoWriMo for the third year in a row, having completed the last two years successfully. That isn’t common: only 18 per cent of participants in 2014, and only 14 per cent of participants in 2013, actually completed the task. Such an undertaking is as difficult as it sounds: writing 1,700 words a day wouldn’t be too difficult, if it weren’t for jobs, degrees and all those other responsibilities that occupy our valuable time.
For that reason, it is inadvisable to enter NaNoWriMo without some preparation – an idea of where your novel is going – so you aren’t wasting time during the day: time that could be spent writing the book. So, inevitably, the latter half of October is often also spent in preparation for the challenge.
NaNoWriMo is an epic journey, and whilst many people might think that a 50,000 word is an extraordinary amount, in comparison to other novels that have already been published it is relatively small. To compare, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the shortest of the Harry Potter books, comes to 76,944 words in length.
It’s great to know that many NaNoWriMo books have since been published: Water For Elephants, which was made into a successful film in 2011, was originally a NaNoWriMo success. To date, over 250 NaNoWriMo books have been published in the 16 years that the challenge has been set.
NaNoWriMo presents its own challenges to the writer, and it never gets easier. There are always days where you feel like you can’t write another word, like you’re doing too much describing and not putting in nearly enough action, like you’ve added one too many characters. But, even if you realise that your novel is the worst thing you’ve ever written, six days before the challenge is completed, there’s no point in giving up. So if you know anyone who is doing the challenge, don’t be offended if they snap at you or you never see them outside of work for the month: they are understandably rather swamped.
No participant in NaNoWriMo will claim the challenge to be easy, no matter how many years they’ve taken part. It’s one of the toughest tasks for any writer to take on, and there will be many relieved sighs when the 50,000 words mark is reached – hopefully on 30th November. When this piece is published, I will hopefully have finished the challenge. Looking back, I already feel a great sense of satisfaction. Some days, I only managed 500 words, but then the next day I could write well over 3,000. And it’s a challenge that I gladly take on, despite everyone around me thinking I’m mad.
It will make you hate writing for a good few weeks as you recover, but it’s well worth it for the sense of achievement, and the impressed glances you get from your friends! For those of you on campus and abroad who joined me in the struggle, I salute you. Congratulations! And if you’re a budding writer who wants a good challenge, NaNoWriMo takes place every year – so join the fun (and pain) in 2016! The pain, boredom and tired fingers will pay off. It always does.