Next month is an exciting month for aspiring writers.  November is NaNoWriMo, more properly National Novel Writing Month.  Set up in 1999 by writer/reviewer Chris Baty, this annual project aims to get writers to overcome the anxiety of starting a new, big project by banging out a 50,000 word novel … in the short space between November 1st and November 30th.

The idea is that it’s better to write a mediocre something than a brilliant nothing.  Which is fair enough.

Really, the challenge is just to get something written – the harder work of editing, cutting, pruning and refining can come later.  And it is a challenge, rather than a competition: you ‘win’ simply by hitting your word target, which is no mean feat.  No prize, other than the pride.  No reward but the accomplishment itself.

The project has grown rapidly over the last 11 years, starting in 1999 with just 21 participants, and only six ‘winners’ who managed to submit their full 50,000 words by the deadline.  The next year there were 140 participants; in 2001, there were 5,000 … Last year there were a massive 167,000 writers registered to write a novel in a month.

Although I didn’t intend to promote the project here, it’s worth advertising in the hope that even a few more people previously intimidated by the prospect of writing a whole novel jump right in and see what they’re capable of.  50,000 words is a tough objective, but not unachievable – most mainstream novels fall between 70,000 and 100,000 words.  My novel ‘Half Discovered Wings’ is roughly 130,000 words weighing in at 500 pages; what will hopefully be the second of my fantasy novels, ‘Ifrit Town’, was originally a biblical 250,000 words before I had at it with the editing ax.

But I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.


Before I heard about NaNoWriMo from a friend last month, I had already tasked myself with a certain big challenge for November.  It’s been a few weeks since I finished the first draft of my latest novel, and some time to go before I’m free to begin another big project.

The space between novels yawns every time, stretching first into a mild discomfort, then an irritating itch that has you fidgeting as your mind wanders, and finally the twitchy, restless phase where ideas are like weights in your mind and you can’t concentrate on anything else.

Usually I use this simultaneously restful and dreadful period to think up new ideas and bang out a few short stories to fill in the gaps on the publishing history.  This time however I’ve committed myself to something much more ambitious, and actually faintly stupid.

Thirty short stories in thirty days.

It would be a little easier to say that between the 1st and the 30th I promise to have written thirty full short stories, each a minimum of 1,000 words.  But instead, quite impetuously, I’ve already committed to writing one story a day for that entire month.  So I won’t even get a day off for good behaviour.

I once went on holiday for two weeks to Portugal, and had the first 40,000 words of a new novel done by the flight home.  So I know it’s possible.

… When you have an inspiring landscape … And no job to go to … And no responsibilities beyond taking regular toilet breaks.

But there it is.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.

My own gauntlet.  At myself.  By myself.

And now I’m wondering what I’ve let myself in for.

Those of you interested in witnessing the train wreck as it happens can pop in from time to time – or daily, if you really want to keep my on my toes.  I’ll likely post the stories on the main website,, for which a new page will be created shortly.  Blog posts will keep you informed, and there is a subscription option on the site that will let you know when a new story is announced.  The stories will be available for a minimum of thirty days – I’ll take them all down for a thorough editing on December 30th and you’ll likely never see them again unless they turn up in an e-zine somewhere.

Lend me your good fortune, for I shall need it.



*               *               *               *               *


Edit 13/10/2010: The website has now been updated to show the new Challenge page, which can be reached from “Stories”.  Distressingly, there are now thirty empty links on this new page that need to be filled with short stories, each no less than 1,000 words.  ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!