NaNoWriMo at the Los Angeles Public Library

Angi Brzycki, Senior Librarian, Community Engagement and Outreach Department ,
cartoon image of a person writing at a desk with ink, plume and open notebook
Illustration by Eric Nyffeler

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual writing challenge. Participants have the entire month of November to write a novel. What does that translate to? Averaging about 1667 words per day, 50,000 words in 30 days. If maintained, this will produce a 200 page novel. How does something like this start and how does it end up a thing? It all began with a simple call to action in the form of an email in 1999 from Chris Baty to 21 of his closest friends. Baty, then a 26-year-old freelancer living in Berkeley sent out the following email (which he was kind enough to share here):

Here ye! Here ye! Come one, come all, and dust off those word-processing devices!

Under the motto "A lousy novel is better than no novel at all," I have declared July National Novel-Writing Month.

To celebrate, I want to write a novel. In a month. And I want you to write one too.

Everybody's got a ton of stories in them. Collectively we have lived over 700 years, and in that time we've accumulated enough characters, places, and plot twists to fill a dozen tomes. I am proposing that we seize art by the horns, and spill some of those experiences onto the page. This will be a great exercise for everyone interested in storytelling who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. As you write, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the country, other National Novel-Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Frenetic American Novel. 

Because the writing time is so short, the only thing we're looking for is length. Reach 200 pages (just 7 pages a day!) and you're done! Quality is of no concern. Don't have an ending? Just stop writing at page 200—real writers do it all the time! No plot? No worries! Some of the best novels of the past 20 years haven't had plots.

Ithink all of us will surprise ourselves with what we are able to produce in such a limited window of time. The short working period will prevent the second-guessing and foot-dragging that can stifle creativity. It will also limit the "I should really be working on my novel" guilt to a one-month window.

Ok, the breakdown:

What: Writing one 200+ page novel from scratch in a month's time.

Who: You! I can't do this unless I have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together!
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from your novel at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work. 

When: Writing begins July 1. Completed, printed manuscript due to Chris by midnight on July 31.

Interested? I'd like to have a meeting either June 16 or June 17 to discuss particulars. —Chris Baty

Chris Baty at a computer in a banana suit

Chris Baty
In just 18 years, NaNoWriMo went from 21 participants in 1999 to an expected 400,000 this year. What started out in Berkeley, has now spread to 646 different regions and to six different continents. Blown away by the proportions, I asked Chris Baty himself…”Would you ever want to be a motivational speaker?” He responded something like, “I would love that, as long as it was in a non-corny kind of way.” In my mind, maybe by design, he’s succeeded. NaNoWriMo is more than a fast track to writing a novel, it’s about accomplishing something you never thought you could. The way Baty describes it, “People lose track of their awesomeness. NaNoWriMo is a way to help us realize how much more we are capable of.”
Since 2006, nearly 400 NaNoWriMo novels have been published by traditional publishing houses and over 200 novels have been published by smaller presses or self-published. Some notable titles are in our Los Angeles Public Library collection, including the following:

Chris Baty himself has created a “new mediocre first draft” every year since NaNoWriMo’s inception. He currently teaches a 10-week course at Stanford dedicated to the practice of producing a novel in just thirty days. He also published a kind of “self-help” book for Wrimos (participants in NaNoWriMo): No Plot? No Problem? A Low Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 days

If you are interested in participating in NaNoWriMo, please do so. First thing to do is registering on the project's website Wrimos (participants) post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting. No one has to ever read your novel to win this challenge. If you think writing is a solitary thing, think again. NaNoWriMo is all about community. It began with a group of friends getting together at a coffee shop with their “small washing machine sized” laptops and the sentiment stands regardless of its size today. At the local level (here in Los Angeles), NaNoWriMo is organized in a way that people can meet up and write together. Once you register, you will actually get “pep talks” in your WriMo inbox from successful writers. Some of the “pep talks” archived on the site include:

This year if you sign up, you will receive a “pep talk” from Roxane Gay. NaNoWriMo has a team of volunteers, known as Municipal Liaisons (ML) that host kick off parties and do their best to motivate writers to keep going. Here in Echo Park our ML is the wonderful Julie Johnson. We’ve been corresponding since Edendale Branch Library signed up to be a write in location a few months back. I asked her a few questions including how she would describe herself. Here is her reply:

I stomp around LA with my daughter and our mighty dog, in addition to giving voice to the characters in my head, and doodling a lot. I work as a Quantum Success coach and support people in creating fulfilling creative lives. I have participated every year since 2012, along with several Camp Nanos. I’ve won most, but I am not perfect. Last year I tanked after the election and could not find my back to the page. I am ready to win again this year. My novels have all been different. I’ve written memoir to erotica. My favorite so far has been my YA novels, Freaks. It is Halloween night in the French Quarter of New Orleans, when four vastly different teens meet in a haunted bookstore with a ghost with a sordid past. Will their own secrets be exposed as they search to unravel the truth behind his murder? This year, I am writing a fun romp for Middle Grades, with a superhero Grandma and her granddaughter sidekick. Evil clowns and a competitive grandmother with a kick a*s cookie recipe will test the limits in this high flying caper.

I originally became an ML in another region. We were a small community and I owned a used book store. We had the perfect situation, and we wrote every day, all the time. Betty Bailey was my inspiration to participate in NaNo my first year and she was my co-ML there for a couple years. Betty showed me that a great ML can make all the difference. The beauty of this crazy journey is there’s no one right way to do it. Planners are just as likely to be successful as pantsers. You can write in the privacy of your own home and never meet another Wrimo and come out of it with a fabulous first draft. You can spend time every single day with other Wrimos, make connections and friendships and have a wildly successful month even if your word count doesn’t meet the goal. The idea of writing a novel in 30 days is insane, so in omnia paratus! The NaNo LA community is as diverse and creative as this gorgeous place we live in. —Julie Johnson

a group of people sitting around a black cat, at computers typing away

Julie Johnson hosted NaNoWriMo write-ins at her bookstore

The Los Angeles Public library, as well as many other places are hosting “Write Ins.” Please check out the schedule on our online calendar. If you have been one of the many folks that finish your novel, please consider checking out LAPL Writes—it has plenty of writer’s resources including a platform to self-publish eBooks.