It was a dark and stormy night...

by Robert Daeley

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Once a year, a few thousand people, inspired by something they read on the Internet, get together and go insane for an entire month. No, it's not Burning Man, although it does get about as surreal by the end.

It's NaNoWriMo -- and if you are not in the know, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you sign up at, then spend the month of November writing a 50,000-word novel or 50,000 words of a novel, depending on whether you're leaning toward the letter or spirit of the event. The task, though overwhelming to contemplate, is relatively simple: type a lot of words as quickly as you can in some semblance of an ongoing narrative. To reduce it even further: type a bunch of words until you reach 50,000 of them. Keeping a running wordcount is very important, not least as motivation, but also to make sure you're going fast enough.

When I participated (and finished!) in 2004, I was beginning to move toward using plain text editors for my writing and away from Word Processing Suites (TM), for numerous reasons too complicated to go into in this entry. Suffice to say I didn't want a few dozen toolbars, popups, and whistling paperclips distracting me from getting words on the page.

I spent a lot of time in Mac OS X's TextEdit, as well as other editors. This year I may be leaning toward the well-executed Smultron, which I expect would handle the multiple necessary text files quite well.

Wordcounts can be done in various ways, but I usually wind up in the Terminal using the built-in wc command. If you're into instant feedback and don't mind using TextEdit, check out NanoCount which will give you a live picture of how slow fast you're going.

I kept up on three other related electronic documents through the month as well. First, a journal of the novel, using MacJournal -- since it is now commercial and my software budget is limited, I may try going with Journler this time around. Second and third, an outline and a timeline in OmniOutliner; although any outliner would probably do, it's hard to argue with OmniGroup's great interface.

Browsing through the event's forums reveals a different set of programs for every participant -- everybody has their own unique setup tailored to their comfort and needs, not to mention operating system. If you decide to jump off the NaNoWriMo cliff, be sure your tools do the best job possible helping you out of the hallucinatory abyss that is writing a novel in a month.

(You can read more about the event, including my potential 2005 participation, here.)

Update: I discovered tonight in Smultron that the status bar can be set to display a running wordcount, amongst other things. You can turn this on in Preferences, under the General tab. That might just seal the deal for me. :)

If you're thinking about NaNoWriMo, or even just tried it out, what are some of your favorite tools?


2005-09-12 13:32:40
Jer's Novel Writer!
You forgot some biggy writers-only apps.

Don't forget Jer's Novel Writer -- fantastic app, built pretty much expressly for this purpose:

or Copywrite

-Ben Parzybok

2005-09-12 13:44:24
I vote for CopyWrite. I used it last year for NaNo and purchased it outright. Very good program.