That was in 1999. Today on the first day of nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month -- 139,000 visits were logged on to the site.
The popularity of this project has risen exponentially with each successive year. The first year, July, 1999, 21 people gathered in the San Francisco Bay area and competed. Year two saw an increase to 140 participants, a world wide web site and the need for rules and regulations. The competition was moved to November to best use the crappy weather situation in San Francisco. If there really is crappy weather in SF? Chris Baty, nanowrimo originator, expected 150 people the next year, but 5,000 showed up. At the end of this hellish year for the site managers, Baty requested some contributions.
Here's what he wrote about that experience.
This was the start of my education in running an event without a mandatory entry fee. The biggest lesson of which is this: When you make contributions voluntary, very few people volunteer to contribute. No matter how great a time they had or how much they believe in your cause, 90% of participants just won't find their way to clicking on the PayPal link or mailing in a couple dollars.
The karmic repercussions of it all were mind-boggling to me. Who were these monsters? I'd spent the last month staying up till 3 am every night patiently answering emails, offering encouragement, and giving up every ounce of love and support that the Red Bull hadn't leached from my body. And when I asked for one dollar in return, they turned a cold shoulder? Was this the definition of community?
I spent a week or so frozen in that bitter, martyred pose until a public radio fundraising drive brought me out of it. The baritone-voiced radio announcer was trying to interest me in yet another Newsweek-filled pledge package, and I was looking around to find something to throw at the stereo. Which was when I realized what was happening.
My god, I thought. I suckle at the teat of public radio all year, and I have never once sent them a dime. Never. And how often had I ever given anything to charities or organizations I believed in?
By 2002, nanowrimo had a fully automated site and Chris and cohorts no longer pulled all nighters trying to keep up. The cult of nanowrimo lasts all year and there are regional groups and activities organized to maintain interest in the project.
One of the early years, I logged on and quickly fell behind in the project, never reaching the 50,000 word goal. Today I seem to be more driven to finish at least one book before I die. Having lived past the half century mark, thoughts of death have surpassed thoughts of liposuction. I'm beginning to feel comfortable with love handles and thunder thighs. But still, I want to finish that novel.
So I'm signed up once again for the 50,000 words in 30 days goal. I'm happy to say I have surpassed the 1/5th mark and am headed around the bend toward 20,000 words -- all on the same topic so it is conceivable that these words could be formed into a reasonable facsimile of a novel. I hope, I hope.
And I owe it to Diana Gabaldon who intrigues me with her writing and the faceless daisypappa person on nanowrimo's historic fiction forum who put it all in perspective with her comment:
I think you're being too hard on yourself. Holding up Gabaldon as the standard is just too much pressure. Write from your heart.So to all of the nanowrimo contestants I wish a hearty GOOOD LUCK! Keep writing. You can do it. And to Chris Baty. Just look what you've started! Congratulations. But Chris, did you ever write or publish your novel?