The May '12 issue of The Writer has a good article by Rochelle Melander on achieving story success through participating in online writing marathons. While I knew about NaNoWriMo and NaNoEdMo, there were a bunch of others for fiction that I didn't know existed:
3-Day Novel Contest: write a novel (no specific length, but 100 pages is called "average" on the web site) in 72 hours during Labor Day weekend, which is September 1st-3rd this year. Fee for registration; cash prizes offered.
Camp NaNoWriMo: the summer camp version of NaNoWriMo; write a 50K novel in one month, takes place June 1st - 30th and again on August 1st - 31st
JulNoWriMo ~ July Novel Writing Month: write a 50K novel in one month, takes place July 1st - 31st
NaBloPoMo ~ National Blog Posting Month: post daily on your blog for one month; web site offers monthly theme challenges (PBW notes: This one isn't geared toward fiction, but it might help you revive your weblog.)
NaPiBoWriWee ~ National Picture Book Writing Week: write seven picture books in a week; takes place May 1st - 7th
WeSiWriMo ~ Web Series Writing Month: set your own goals and create a regularly-produced entertainment series (podcasts, serial stories, webisodes, web-comics, you name it) for a web-only audience; takes place August 1st - 31st
Given the ever-expanding popularity of NaNoWriMo, I'm not surprised to see there are so many spin-offs; marathons are a great way to inspire collectively. Participating in a group effort to write instills camaraderie and competition in a healthy format. Plus marathons are a fun way for writers to get a lot of work done in a relatively short period of time.
One thing Rochelle mentions in the article is the necessity of passion for your project. You never want to marathon a book based on a lukewarm ho-hum flickering spark; ideally your story should be the one that won't leave you alone, that wakes you in the middle of the night, or barges into your thoughts when you're writing something else. If there is something in your head that does nothing but throw petrol on the fires of your imagination, you've probably got a marathon-worthy concept.
Writing marathons give you the opportunity to be the writer you've always wanted to be, and that's no small thing. I think they're even more valuable for training purposes. There is no better practice at creating on demand than marathon writing, and as a pro you will need to do that. Aside from the rigors of writing according to a contracted schedule, publishers often drop extra projects in your lap that have to be done in a short period of time. This can be anything from writing cover copy to series proposals to jumping your deadlines (one time a publisher made a significant schedule change and offered me a much earlier slot, which resulted in me having to write a novel I'd only outlined in three weeks.)
For working novelists the writing marathon gives us a chance to take a break from the contracted work and explore some new territory. I find marathons help me recharge my batteries so that when I do go back to the contracted work I have more energy, better focus and a fresher perspective. Using marathons to try different genres or approaches to story can help an established writer increase their range and possibly open new opportunities to publish in a different area of the market.
Of course marathons aren't for everyone; the pressure can be overwhelming for writers who don't respond positively to tight deadlines and/or high-volume productivity. Then there are the artistic considerations. Some people really do need ten years to properly write a book, and there's nothing wrong with that except without financial support from some quarter it's quite difficult to make a living at writing that way.
Are you guys tempted by any writing marathons out there (I'm eyeing that one for picture books; that sounds like fun.) Are there any other writing marathons you know of that you want to share? Let us know in comments.