Does the world really need your novel?

National novel writing month has kicked off. Now just for the small matter of motivation

Rebecca Armstrong
Sunday 03 November 2013 18:50

I wish I had enough cash to employ someone in the evenings and at weekends. I wouldn’t want them to do the cooking, or to tackle the ironing - not least because I haven’t bought anything that needs ironing since 1998 - or re-tile the bathroom. They wouldn’t need specialist skills or much in the way of tools. All they’d need is a big, pointy stick. This person would fulfil the role of my willpower and, with the stick, poke me into doing the things I know I want to do - go running, write a book - but somehow never get round to. Since I don’t have any spare dosh (what with not writing that bestseller yet), what’s a lazy lump with literary longings to do?

This is where NaNoWriMo comes in. It’s not the latest character in a Ceebeebies series but the short named for National Novel Writing Month, which kicked off on Friday. Wannabe writers sign up at to create a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 pm on 30 November. Half a million people are expected to participate this year, the US project’s 14th, and a great many of those people will connect online to help each other reach their average of 1,667 words per day. Anyone who makes it to 50,000 words is a winner, and there have been some real-life success stories from projects started during NaNoWriMo, including the excellent The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and the probably-jolly-good-but-I-haven’t-read-it Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Hell, it must have been good - Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson starred in the movie version.

Having only just stumbled upon NaNoWriMo, I am awed by how long it’s been going on and by how many people sit down to write every November. I’m also slightly horrified by the project’s tagline: “The world needs your novel”. I think even the most self-obsessed would-be Hemingway will admit to themselves that it probably doesn’t, but that it would be nice to have written something that long, if only to be able to say you had. There are some great discussions being batted back and forth on Twitter as to the value of this speed-writing approach. Some argue that anything written so quickly will be tosh, others that this kind of uberdeadline - as well as those daily word counts - is the only thing that will galvanise the coy, the procrastinators and the busy.

Of course, I’d love to sign up - it’s free, the community approach sounds intriguing and hell, I might even get a book out of it. Unfortunately, since no-one’s here to poke me with a stick to get me to sign up and catch up on the four days I’ve already missed, I guess I’ll just wait until next year.

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