Queens University of Charlotte
Every November as the leaves change into brilliant colors and begin to fall from the trees, writers from across the globe also begin to transform from their daily job as a teacher, parent or construction worker, to a writer, as they drop brilliant words onto the page. November is National Novel Writing Month, which inspired the nonprofit organization by the same name, to create NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month. Through this paper, I will evaluate the purpose, content and participation of NaNoWriMo. I will evaluate both the most popular and least popular posts on NaNoWriMo to demonstrate how participants use this forum. I will also evaluate how participants use NaNoWriMo to connect with other writers, obtain encouragement on their writing and use the forum to research their genre. I will also evaluate NaNoWriMo based on how participants don’t use the forum. This will support my theory that participants use NaNoWriMo to connect with other writers and not to promote or sell their work.
To understand NaNoWriMo, one must first understand the purpose of the forum and organization. The mission statement of for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 501(c)(3) nonprofit is:
National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels. (NaNoWritMo, n.d.).
Each year, writers gather on the online writing forum, NaNoWriMo, to make a commitment to write everyday. Between November 1 and midnight November 30 writers are encouraged to write 50,000 words. In 2013, NaNoWriMo had 310,095 participants. As NaNoWriMo stated, “310,095 participants started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists,” (2014). Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including New York Times Best Seller, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Last year 89,5000 students and educators participated in the program through the Young Writers Program, which is for writers’ ages 17 and younger (Young Writers Program, 2014).
Despite the word “national” in the title, NaNoWriMo is a global program with Municipal Liaisons in 595 regions on six continents. In 2014, NaNoWriMo celebrated their 16th year for providing a forum for aspiring writers around the world. The heart of the program is the engagement in the online forums. Not only do the online forums provide an opportunity for other writers to connect with each other, but they also include virtual networking opportunities with published writers, publishers, editors and literary agents. This year, six published authors wrote pep talks to mentor aspiring writers. The authors included Veronica Roth, Jim Butcher and Tamora Pierce (Kim, 2014).
The top four topics with the most posts include Games, Diversions & Other Exciting Forms of Procrastination with 52,298 posts, Reference Desk with 28,901 posts, All-Ages Coffeehouse with 31,204 posts and Word Wars, Prompts & Sprints with 25,429 posts (Forums, 2014). Compare this with the three topics with the least amount of posts, including Military Lounge with 170 posts, Mainstream & Realistic Fiction with 350, Dangerous Writers: Night of Writing Dangerously with 444 posts and 30 Covers, 30 Days with 978 posts.
When evaluating the differences between the posts with the most activity and the posts with the least activity, one can see three themes. First, the posts with the most activity center on topics that are applicable to a broad audience. Consider the post, Games, Diversions & Other Exciting Forms of Procrastination. Procrastination is something that plagues every writer. Mcardle (2014) discusses the psychological origins of procrastination among writers. Mcardle states that most writers are paralyzed by the fear of writing something inadequate. She explores how most writers are used to analyzing the works of others, which is in final, polished format. This in turn causes writers to analyze their own works with close scrutiny and then struggle with insecurity. Pastor Steven Furtick says, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” (as cited in Mcardle, 2014). As a writer, I can completely relate to the topic of procrastination. Even for this paper, I spent hours procrastinating before starting on the actual writing. I hung three pictures up in my office, chatted with my mom and sister, watched a show with my daughter and prepared a snack. The component I find interesting is that there is an actual discussion forum that centers on procrastination. This demonstrates that writers acknowledge and embrace their procrastination and use it as a form of bonding. Some of the topics on this thread include, “Just Say Something”, which is allows writers to “Come here and just say anything ❤ Vent, share an accomplishment, talk about your writing, any little thing in your life.” (Titanium, 2014). Writers are able to connect on topics that allow them to break away from the stress of writing, while still participating in the forum.
Compare this with the post that has the least amount of posts, which is targeted to a narrow audience: military writers. The Military Writers topic only has ten threads, the majority of them generic and not specific to writing, including: “A place to say thank you”, “Happy Veteran’s Day” and “Welcome to the Military Lounge,” (Dudley, H. and Girl, M, 2014).
The second theme that is common among the posts with the most responses includes posts that offer helpful information. The post Reference Desk falls into this category. This post contains several threads from members asking about how certain things work, from the “Average speed of a sailship” to “How small would a town have to be to not have a hospital” to “How does Catholic confession work?” (Karalianne et al., 2014). This forum allows other writers to connect on questions they have for ensuring the books they are writing on are factual. Given that NaNoWriMo connects writers from around the world can greatly benefit from the diversity of culture, background and experience that other writers bring.
In contrast, the Mainstream & Realistic Fiction forum only offers information for those writing in the genre of mainstream and realistic fiction (Dudley and Shatterglass, 2014). I also noticed that the majority of the posts in this discussion forum don’t offer information for other writers, but they are asking for specific advice that is only applicable for that specific author. For example, one of the threads is titled “How to make my novel standout” (Lisashawnz, 2014). This thread is specifically asking how she can make her novel standout from all of the others. There is no benefit for others to comment on this thread, which is why there are zero responses. Compare this thread with one in the Reference Desk post with “Very well known religious song in England” (FiddleDD, 2014), which has 45 responses. This post resonated with other writers, because they could not only contribute their knowledge, but the suggestions could also benefit other writers as well.
Finally, the third theme that is present in the most popular posts on NaNoWriMo includes content that centers on making connections. NaNoWriMo includes many discussion forums for authors to connect with each other. The broad categories of the discussion forums include, Official Stuff, NaNo Tips & Strategies, Mechanics, Logistics, and Other Technical Stuff, Life During NaNo, Resources & Writing Support, Genre Lounges, NaNo Groups, Outside the Box and Regional Forums. The two posts that center on connections, include All-Ages Coffeehouse and Word Wars, Prompts & Sprints meets this criteria. The threads within this post center on writers to connect and find writing buddy.
The “sticky” post on All-Ages Coffeehouse with 450 comments encourages writers to add a writing buddy (Dudley, 2014). A “sticky” post means that the topic will always stay at the top of the list in a discussion forum and it often contains the guidelines for posting in a particular forum. Many of the topics within this forum also encourage a dialogue between writers, such as “Why do you write” (paintinggirl, 2014). The post Word Wars also includes a “sticky” post encouraging writers to find a word war buddy and it outlines the rules for participating in word wars, which is a game for writers. Word Wars is a game that involves either writing as many words as you can based on a prompt, timer or interesting link. The common thread between both of these posts is that it encourages writers to make a connection on something they have in common.
I also noticed through participating in this forum that writers are Internet savvy and quickly see through spamming, marketing and promotional attempts. Writers will not respond to a post that is veiled as authentic, but is designed to “trick” users into either clicking on malicious content or clicking on an advertising link. I was particularly interested in this component, as I am in information security communications and I often see individuals who fall victim to malicious attempts. It’s refreshing to see that the NaNoWriMo community knows how to protect themselves from falling victim to one of these attempts. One example of this is the post from administrator Heather Dudley (2014) in the forum Word Wars, Prompts & Sprint, in which she states up front that writers should ignore posts with links that say, “click here” or include clear promotional links. As I navigated through the forum, I noticed that the majority of writers adhered to these rules and I didn’t notice any spam attempts.
Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised that participants in this community were not overt in their attempts to promote their work. This can be seen through the post Special Offers & Greetings from NaNo Sponsors. This forum was one of the least popular forums with only 1,031 posts, demonstrating that writers are not primarily interested in the promotional aspect of participating in this forum.
In conclusion, the forum NaNoWriMo offers a great opportunity for writers across the globe to connect. Not only can writers connect over a common goal of writing 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30, but they can form bonds that extend beyond their common love for writing. As shown through the evaluation of the content posted on NaNoWriMo, writers participate in this forum for three reasons; 1) to connect with other writers, 2) to receive encouragement on staying motivated and 3) to obtain reference information that helps them complete their book. It is also clear through studying the participation in NaNoWriMo that writers do not participate in this event to promote their work. The majority of threads relate to writers making connections and receiving advice about how to proceed with their works in progress, not promoting their published work to enhance sales. Writers who are looking for motivation to start their novel and connect with other writers should consider participating in this popular forum that draws over 300,000 writers each year.
Dudley, H. [Screen Name]. (2014). All ages writing buddies. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/all-ages-coffee-house/threads/171423
Dudley, H. and Girl, M. [Screen Names]. (2014). Military Lounge. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/military-lounge
Dudley, H. and Shatterglass. [Screen Names]. (2014). Mainstream and realistic fiction. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/mainstream-fiction
FiddleDD [Screen Name] (2014). Very well known religious song in England. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/reference-desk/threads/201271
Forums (2014). NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums
Karalianne, Dudley, LovelyLici, CarolinaWriter and Aethre [Screen Names] (2014). Reference Desk. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/reference-desk?page=8
Kim, T. (2014, Oct. 16). 400,000 Writers, 2,000 Classrooms, 200 Countries: National Novel Writing Month 2014 is Boundless. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://d1lj9l30x2igqs.cloudfront.net/nano-2013/files/2014/10/nano_14_press_release_updated.pdf
Lisashawnz [Screen Name] (2014). How to make my novel standout. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/mainstream-fiction/threads/203835
Mcardle, M. (2014, Feb. 12). Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: The psychological origins of waiting (…and waiting, and waiting) to work. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/why-writers-are-the-worst-procrastinators/283773/2/
NaNoWriMo (2014). Press. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/press
Paintinggirl [Screen Name]. (2014). Why do you write? NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/all-ages-coffee-house/threads/187017
Rich, M. (2007, July 11). Big time for a novel set under the big top. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/11/books/11elep.html?_r=0
Titanium [Screen Name]. (2014). Just say something (:. NaNoWriMo. Retrieved from http://nanowrimo.org/forums/games-diversions-and-other-exciting-forms-of-procrastination/threads/172016
Young Writers Program. (2014). What is NaNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo’s young writers program. Retrieved from http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/what-is-nanowrimo