The Fall of the House of NaNoWriMo? – Raven Oak

The Fall of the House of NaNoWriMo?

The Sky is Falling

NaNoWriMo began back in 1999 with a small group of twenty writers. It was founded by Chris Baty in the Bay Area and by 2000, it had its own website and over 140 participants. By the year 2002, the first year I participated, the group had over 13,000 participants and had spread across the United States. 

2005 was the year of the Young Writers’ Program, a system set up to encourage minors to write their first books. By 2005, I was already in my 5th year teaching—English classes then—so my students had watched me fight for my 50,000 words every November for several years by this point. They cheered me on and some even tried their hand at it. When the YWP began, I was ecstatic. Now there was a system in place to help my young writers who needed more support than I could give in thirty minutes after school. 

I have been a financial supporter and participant of NaNoWriMo for over two decades. I’ve attended more midnight launch events and write-ins than I can count, in two states now, and have helped countless municipal liaisons organize these events. I’ve made so many writer friends through the organization, and have even taught teens various writing techniques I learned back in the early NaNo days. As my writing career took off and I shifted to full-time writer, every month became NaNoWriMo so to speak—something I wrote about here.

While I haven’t always actively created a project on the NaNo website and participated in that manner, I’ve always cheered on my fellow NaNo folks and supported the cause. Creating is a powerful tool, and one I feel should be accessible to everyone. The arts have always been at the forefront of my life and world, be it music, drawing, painting, crochet, map making/cartography, or writing. I have mad respect for those who take the journey into this world and to me, every word written is a success.

Because I haven’t always been active on the official site, I haven’t been very active on the official forums in a number of years. I typically chat with other participating authors in smaller groups over on Facebook, Discord, etc. Because of this, I missed a lot of…problems that have been brewing for what looks like the last decade, and it appears, so did most people. 

At this point, I’m going to give a CONTENT WARNING. Something happened in the world of NaNoWriMo involving the grooming and alleged abuse of minors, something that was covered up, so if that’s something you don’t wish to read about, you can stop here. I will say that I do not intent to get into details, but I will post links for those who wish to be better informed.


Grooming, sexual abuse, & bigotry

We’ll continue this after the picture so folks don’t see anything that might harm their mental health.

Every looked at someone and think, "Why has no one hit you with a shovel yet?"

Last week, shit hit the fan over at NaNoWriMo HQ and as such, the Board of Directors stepped in and shut down the entire NaNo Forums. 

Apparently, for the past decade, NaNoWriMo has talked a fair game about being a safe space, while having moderators, admin, municipal liasons, and other volunteers and employees that were problematic. Rather than clean house, the response of NaNo HQ was to either ban victims reporting issues or to sweep it under the rug. Some folks were finally removed from positions of power, but the amount of stink that had to be raised for it to happen was…concerning. 

Then there was the 2022 fiasco where NaNoWriMo paired up with known scammers in the writing community—a company called Inkitt, which preys on writers desperate to be published. To be fair, the folks at NaNoWriMo realized their error, parted ways with the scammers, and promised to do better. They even paired up with SFWA’s Writers Beware to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

But the real reason that shit hit the fan is much, much worse. 

A fairly large group of teenagers in the Young Writers’ Program have recently come forward (after notifying the FBI) to state that one of NaNoWriMo’s main moderators and runners of the YWP has been grooming kids for over a year and nothing was done about it. 

Apparently, this person we’ll call Moderator X, runs an adult website. He was allegedly sending teens to this site to interact with pedophiles and allowing other pedophiles access to the YWP Forums so that they could also groom and abuse minors. According to the victims, they reported said actions MANY times over YEARS, and instead of doing something about it, they were told that there was no proof Moderator X did anything wrong (despite screen shots proving otherwise) and Moderator X was allowed to continue to have power over said program and thus, access to minors. The victims were upset enough that they began their own website called Speak Out, where victims could speak their truth and be believed. It’s pretty gruesome reading. Fair warning.

The NaNoWriMo Board became involved last week—assumingely because the FBI was notified—and has confirmed that they received hundreds of pages of proof that bad things were happening and little was done. They state they were unaware of any of this as multiple moderators and HQ folks did not notify them, which if true, is a problem as well.

You can read the Board of Directors’ initial post about this here: 

More details from other mods on what’s been going on can be read here: 

And finally, a lengthy post about Moderator X, with a few more details and such can be read here:

I believe you do have to have a NaNoWriMo login to access these threads posted above, but needless to say, I’ve combed through them. I’ve spent time on and off over the past five days reading these threads and watching the Board of Directors scramble to put out more fires than a California summer.

Patterns Emerge

I said I wasn’t going to get into details here, and I’m not, but I felt the need to read through what’s been going on because I see a pattern here that I don’t like. It seems that NaNoWriMo has a history of making bad decisions, then scrambling to set things right. The problem is…those decisions have a cost, be it writers’ money or self-esteem or now, minors’ innocence. 

As someone who encouraged thirteen-year-olds to join the Young Writers’ Program, the knowledge that pedophiles may have taken advantage of them makes me physically ill. I know that I didn’t know, but it doesn’t change how this news makes me feel.

As a non-profit organization, the Board has a duty to protect not just its brand, but its users, especially those who are minors. The fact that they acknowledge that other moderators did not do enough to report these issues is pretty damning. 

I realize that in many cases, Boards of Directors are fairly hands-off on the day to day runnings of a business or non-profit, but there’s hands off and then there’s this. Many have asked what I would like to see happen in response to this, so I figure I’ll chat about that for a moment.  

When I was still teaching, I had a legal duty to report any and all suspected abuse to the authorities. In fact, if I didn’t, I could be jailed for failure to do so. This is true for many jobs and roles in society, but it’s also true for you.

The Board has already discussed requiring thorough background checks for ALL moderators, staff, municipal liaisons, volunteers, etc. in the future, which is a great start. They’ve also stated that they plan to change their policies in such a manner as to ensure abuse doesn’t get missed again. So what else should happen?

Honestly? I think:

  • Any moderator and/or staff member who did not report suspicions and/or disclosures of abuse should be removed from their position, effective immediately. They should be barred from access to anything NaNoWriMo. They should also be reported to the authorities for failure to protect.
  • The Board of Directors should resign. They should work with a new board to affect change here in transition, but they should resign for failure to protect.
  • All disclosures and reports of abuse should be investigated and turned over to the proper authorities for proper investigates as warranted by law.
  • In addition to background checks, all staff and volunteers should undergo proper training as to what abuse looks like, what their role is when a victim comes forward, and what the legal requirements are in regards to reporting suspected abuse. 
  • Also, in the future, all reports of abuse and/or misuse of power on the part of moderators, volunteer, and staff, should be investigated–perhaps by some oversight board or the Board of Directors themselves. Also, if any complaints are brought up against Board members, there needs to be a way to file complaints and have those investigated by non-Board members. 

I think that’s a good start.

I know that non-profit orgs by the nature of their organization (and said benefits that come with it) have to abide by a very strict set of rules in terms of how the organization runs—I’ve personally worked for enough non-profits to know—so I suspect there may be larger consequences for the NaNoWriMo organization in response to this as well. The potential involvement by the feds will definitely make changes. 

Personally, I will no longer be financially or otherwise supporting NaNoWriMo as an organization. If I participate in writing 50,000 words in a month, I will not be calling it NaNoWriMo. I will not be using their website, their forums, their social media, or anything associated with them again.

I realize they may change things around, but fool me once… fool me twice… Three times and I’m out.

I suggest writers think carefully in the future in regards to NaNoWriMo as well.

Voices Carry: A Story of Teaching, Transitions, & Truths by Raven Oak. Cover image shows pride and trans flags in the background and a chalkboard & chalk piece on the bottom of the book.By the way, help support writers like myself. I’ve got a ton of books out, which you can see here, but I also have a new book coming out in August called Voices Carry: A Story of Teaching, Transitions, & Truths. If you sign up for my mailing list, you can be notified of when pre-orders go up.

With over two dozen tales in print, this is my first memoir and focuses on my life as a queer, neurodiverse enby while teaching in the south and coming out. It’s also about finding one’s self, which is something a lot of creatives write about. Hopefully we can all find a new path forward as writers that doesn’t involve the toxicity of NaNoWriMo.

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