I heard about this just a few days ago.
November is National Novel Writing Month. It's something of a misnomer, as it is by no means limited to one nation - participants of every nationality are welcome.
The idea is that starting Nov 1 at 0: 00 local time, you can start a novel. The goal is to write 50,000 words (a short novel) and submit it for word count verification before Nov 30, 11:59:59 PM, local time (or Pacific time, if that comes first). The idea is to aim for quantity, not necessarily quality, have fun, and above all, write. Most people never write a novel in their life - the idea is to give you motivation to do so, and at a good pace. Fifty-thousand words a month, translates to 1667 words/day - so if you can do 2000-3000 words a day - a few hours, but doable, you'll be fine and have room to spare in case a situation arises or the novel is longer than expected.
It can be in English or other languages (anyone brave enough to try for DerKommissar's Hiigaran language?); it can be any genre; it can be fan-fiction. The novel itself doesn't have to be complete to "win", only be 50,000 words long, and started in November. Nor does it have to have to be brilliant or moving - in fact some participants take pride in their novel's badness. Just the sheer amount alone is an achievment - and it will help discipline you for writing, and serve as practice.
Winners are listed on the website, get to print out a certificate - but most of all, will have written a novel. So, it's largely self-motivated. And, of course, there is no penalty for losing. While they take donations, the contest itself is free.
While you can't write any of the textof the novel before Nov 1, you are free to create outlines, notes, lists of scenes - any supplementary materials that you'll need to write the novel without actually writing any part of it - before November.
When you are done, and if it is still November, you will be able to submit your novel to the NaNoWriMo website starting November 20th for verification. The word count is done by a robot, and the actual work is unread, so if you want to publish it, you don't have to worry about copyright issues. (The contest works by the honor system, though the rewards aren't much beyond satisfaction anyway...)
Upon hearing this, I managed to come up with an idea for a story that won't go away (curse my brain...). Since I'm also taking a creative writing class, I am going to use my attempted entry for my final project.
Is anyone else interested/insane/inspired enough to go for a novel in a month? Anyone want to challenge themselves that much? I suppose we could have a competition at the end, or share our entries (though posting it would cause problems if you ever wanted to publish your entry).