Write a 50,000-word book in 30 days? Impossible, you say? This month, 100,000 people will try to prove you wrong.
Chris Baty knows how to make you work. Because of him, people hide in their bathrooms during Thanksgiving dinner, working to finish their assignments. Others toil nonstop for 30 hours in order to meet their deadlines. Is Baty the scariest boss ever, channeling a The Devil Wears Prada vibe? No, he's just the creator of National Novel Writing Month.
A former travel and music writer, Baty is the mastermind of a self-described "dumb idea" that, eight years later, has blossomed into a bona fide great one. The concept? Get a group of people who will each commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
"It started as an event for people who, for better or worse, loved books but had no idea what they were doing," Baty says. This month, NaNoWriMo, as it's known, begins its ninth round. The writing fest started in 1999 with only 21 contenders but has grown exponentially ever since. Last year, 79,000 people from 69 countries signed up at NaNoWriMo.org, and 13,000 of those managed to cross the finish line. This year, there are expected to be 100,000 participants. These dedicated wannabe novelists will lock themselves away for days and days, typing, scrutinizing, and, no doubt, crying as they strive to meet their word quotas.
Signing up for NaNoWriMo is free, though organizers encourage each writer to donate something to cover administrative and web-hosting costs. Once participants have finished writing their 50,000 (or more) words, they should e-mail their manuscripts to NaNoWriMo for word-count verification. Writers can keep their work private or post excerpts on the group's website. As soon as the excerpts are in the archives, they're available for public viewing - and that means publishing houses have access to them.
While dreams of glory and publishing deals surely inspire some of the writers, it's the NaNoWriMo community's encouraging, everyone-can-do-it attitude that many find especially appealing. Online forums help writers work through plot snafus, and area coordinators plan local events such as group writing sessions and Thank God It's Over parties. "The idea of getting together online and being part of a community is very fun and so refreshing," says Lani Diane Rich, an author who jump-started her career by publishing two of her NaNoWriMo manuscripts.
The rosy atmosphere helps alleviate the pressure would-be authors feel to write something perfect. "We all have such impossibly high expectations of ourselves, but the truth is that every novel that we have loved started out as a miserable first draft," Baty says. And the whole purpose behind the tight deadline and seemingly impossible word count is to get people writing.
"It's just getting over the hump and doing that first thing and being able to say, 'Hey, I've written a novel' - and that's pretty great," says Martin McClellan, a web designer who has participated in NaNoWriMo for the past four years and has reached the 50,000-word goal three times. He's also cowritten a screenplay with his writing partner, Kent Beeson; it placed in the top 100 in Project Greenlight 3.