You know that novel lurking inside you? The one that’s been trying to get out for years? This is the time to unleash it on an unsuspecting world. That’s because this month is (inter)National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The idea is to write a 50,000-word novel during November; this works out to 1,667 words a day, or slightly more since the event began yesterday. Fifty thousand words does make for a pretty short book but, after all, The Great Gatsby is roughly this length. (Which, as writer Kate Jennings once pointed out in a Prospect article in defence of short novels, is often considered novelistic perfection.)
Started in 1999 by a group of friends in the San Francisco bay area, NaNoWriMo grew exponentially and last year there were 119,301 participants. Of those, 21,683 people “won,” or finished their novels during the allotted time. There’s no other prize, unless you count the PDF certificate and web badge—but over the years, NaNoWriMo has led to quite a few published books. No doubt these novels were published after extensive rewriting; the nature of the challenge means that quantity has to overwhelm quality. But, as a novelist friend tells me, the hardest and most important part of writing is getting something, anything down on paper; you can always revise afterwards.
Critics would argue that the world doesn’t need another 20,000 unpublishable novels. But this ignores the sheer fun of the enterprise. And it is not an unpopular exercise among published novelists either; Peter Carey, Jasper Fforde and other well…