Skip to main content

Experience Design

#IdeaNotebook: National Novel Writing Month

Image of the participant badge for NaNoWriMo 2011November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo. This annual event is “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.” Started in 1999 by Chris Baty, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words, the equivalent of the average-sized novel, in 30 days. Sounds crazy? Baty acknowledges this in the first line of his book No Plot? No problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days:  “The era, in retrospect, was very kind to dumb ideas.”
Success has been more than just kindness, though, as this dumb idea clearly resonated with a lot of people. NaNoWriMo participation has grown from the original 21 participants in the San Francisco area to over 200,000 worldwide in 2010. In 2006, Baty founded the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light to run NaNoWriMo, sister event Script Frenzy in April, and the NaNoWriMo Young Writer Programs, which “provides kids and teens with a month-long creative experience that improves self-esteem, teaches perseverance, and radically alters their relationships with writing and literature.” Now in its 13th year, NaNoWriMo is a global, multi-channel, social event that has grown as much because of its passionate community as the organizers’ hard work and dedication.
Participation in NaNoWriMo, like most online social communities, is free. All you have to do is sign up on the NaNoWriMo website where you can connect with fellow writers, track your progress, and get pep talks from organizers and famous authors, among other amusements. Unlike most social communities, however, this event has been refining this experience since before the words “social networking” buzzed into our social consciousness.
The history of NaNoWriMo provides an interesting perspective on how the online user experience of NaNoWriMo evolved in conjunction with and sometimes anticipated the emerging technologies. Consider that NaNoWriMo launched five years before Facebook, seven years before Twitter, and ten years before foursquare. Before the word was coined, NaNoWriMo was a gamification of novel writing, establishing personal challenges and a friendly competition as participants strive to stay on track with writing 1,667 words each day. The community that has built up online does not rival these later companies in size, but certainly provides an example of an engaging, vital, self-sustaining social network for members.  This timeline shows that this “dumb” idea was ahead of its time delivering the kinds of user experiences that have captured so much attention currently.
That history and the incredible evolution of its user experience make NaNoWriMo a topic of interest to me and an example for anyone interested in compelling UX design. But my true enthusiasm for the event comes from the boost that it gives my creativity. Few activities recharge my creative batteries like NaNoWriMo. I get to cultivate skills and explore ideas that are outside the normal course of my work and other activities. Such a creative recharge, even in this very different kind of activity, has a way of refreshing how I approach the work and other activities that I do.
2011 will be my third year participating in the event. I finished the last two, earning my NaNoWriMo winner t-shirts. This year, I have an even more demanding project schedule than the last two and no clear novel theme entering the event. But I find that I’m eager for the starting line, to face that stark blank page. Even if I don’t cross the 50,000 word finish line on November 30, I know I’ll have learned a lot in the process. If you’re intrigued, come experience “thirty days and nights of literary abandon” for yourself. And let me know, or even better, connect as a writing buddy through NaNoWriMo. I’d love to cheer you on.
Now, to quote Maurice Sendak via program director Lindsey Grant’s kick-off post, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Karen Bachmann

More from this Author

Follow Us