Jack Kerouac famously boasted about completing the manuscript for On the Road in just three weeks. Although impressive, his feat doesn’t sound quite so extraordinary considering more than 36,000 U.S. writers accomplished a similar one — completing a novel in four weeks — last November. If trends continue, that number will be eclipsed this year.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the world’s largest writing challenge, invites participants to complete a 50,000-word story from scratch during the month of November. There are no judges awarding prizes at “The End.” Rather, the payoff is self-fulfilling, says Owen Bondono, an eight-time NaNoWriMo participant and “Municipal Liaison” for the Detroit region.
“The idea is that you’re making yourself proud,” he says. “Statistically speaking, if you write and you get your novel out in November, you will have written more fiction than the average adult will write in their entire life, and you’ve written it in 30 days.”
That sense of accomplishment is empowering, says Bondono, who failed his first two times, but has won five times since. (“Winning” is defined by hitting the word count before the month expires). He credits other local participants for his success, saying, “It was the community that propelled me that little bit that I needed to make my word-count goal.”
NaNoWriMo began in 1999 with 21 writers from the San Francisco Bay area. Last year, more than 256,000 adults participated across the country, along with 2,000 participating K-12 schools. At press time, there were 3,415 members registered in the Detroit region for 2012.
Past NaNoWriMo participants include a number of published authors. However, Bondono says, most of the work never sees the light of day — no surprise, given that the program’s mantra is “quantity, not quality.”
“It’s the idea that I’m going to be spontaneously creative,” he says. “I’m going to shut off my inner editor. I’m going to just spend this month letting my creative imagination go crazy. And what I have at the end is something that’s going to be wonderful, even if it’s terrible.”