National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo) is a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words of any writing style. NaNo began in July 1999 with Chris Baty and twenty others writing novels from scratch, ending on August 1. The following year, a friend built a website for the event to allow several hundred participants. By then NaNo had moved to November to “more fully take advantage of the miserable weather.” That year, there were 140 participants, including some from Canada. That year, a few guidelines – novels must be started from scratch, no co-authoring allowed and novels had to be emailed to headquarters for verification by midnight Pacific Time on November 30. 21 of the 140 completed their novels.
In its third year, thanks to an article in the Los Angeles Times, five thousand participated. With upgrades to the website, participants could now track their progress, and created forums. In it’s fourth year, participation grew exponentially and 14,000 signed up. The participation continued to grow and by 2012, there were 450,000 participants worldwide.
The program expanded to other endeavors. In 2004, the Cambodian Libraries program was established and NaNo gave 50% of its net profits, raising over $7,000 to establish three children’s libraries in different villages. NaNo became a nonprofit in 2008 under the name Office of Letters and Light so that it could also be involved in other projects, including Script Frenzy and the Young Writer’s Program.
Over the years, many authors including Veronica Roth (the Divergent series), Naomi Novik (the Temeraire series), Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia, Jacob Have I Loved, and The Great Gilly Hopkins) and Janet Fitch (White Oleander) have given pep talks to encourage participants.
Others have created similar projects including the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge launched in 2008 and Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo). Although most book published are genres such as fantasy, science fiction, and young adult, there are a few historical fiction novels, such as Jennifer S. Brown’s Modern Girls published in 2016,
While NaNo is geared toward fiction, there are “NaNo Rebels” who write in other genres including memoir, nonfiction, history, songs, and essays. Some historical fiction projects include: Tara Gabriel’s 2015 novel was “set in Ireland in 1920, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Irish War for Independence, sometimes called the Anglo-Irish War. This is the war that broke Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, newly independent at the end of the war, and Northern Ireland, which remains under British rule to this day.” Kate Spofford’s 2017 NaNo project “takes place shortly after the Reign of Terror in France.”
Others, such as Barbara Ridley are working on their on contemporary fiction based on their experiences. Her book is “set in California, early 2000’s, and is inspired by my years of clinical experience working with activists in the disability community, and patients who find the resilience to rebuild their lives after spinal cord injury.” Grace Tierney’s historical fiction, The Light-Keeper’s Diary is about historian Dervla O’Malley discovering Cecil Standish’s 1917 diary written at Castle Cove Lighthouse.
A few have or are working on non-fiction, including artist Celine Terranova’s 2018 NaNo, The Part-Time Artist.
From 2006 to 2017, nearly 400 NaNo novels have been published by traditional presses and over 200 by smaller presses or self-publishing, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and The Beautiful Land, by Alan Averill.