By Ashly Moore Sheldon • November 04, 2020
Huge effort? Small chance of success? It's a daunting proposal to commit to writing a 50,000-word manuscript in just one month. But with a pandemic raging on, maybe now is the perfect time to bury yourself in an all-consuming project. And, in fact, there are a bunch of success stories; writers who not only completed their drafts of 50,000 words in just thirty days, but went on to publish them too! Here are six authors who wrote their debuts during National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo.
She actually wrote her hefty tome The Night Circus over the course of three NaNoWriMos, starting in 2005. The ethereal fantasy about star-crossed lovers in an enchanted circus was published in 2011 and was an instant success. Describing her process, she says, "I started a project that I got bored with and sent the characters to the circus and that circus was immediately much more interesting than anything else so I spent the next two years of NaNo writing exploring that imaginary circus." Her second novel The Starless Sea came out in 2019. Morgenstern's advice to aspiring novelists? "Take chances" and "Let yourself be surprised."
His post-apocalyptic novel Wool actually began as a self-published short story about what happens when the sheriff from an underground siloed city throws his community into chaos by asking to go outside. After seeing its popularity among readers, Howey decided to utilize the NaNoWriMo incentives as an opportunity to flesh it out into a longer piece of fiction. Originally self-published, the NYT bestseller has been translated into 19 foreign languages, and won IndieReader's Best Indie Book of 2012 Award. But he didn't stop there! There's a whole Wool series now. Howey says, "NaNoWriMo has been the greatest thing to happen to me as a writer."
Already thinking about giving NaNo a try, the aspiring author woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for the first line of her book. She recorded it faithfully in her notebook and, a few days later on November 1, she began writing The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, a heartwarming middle grade novel (the first in a series) about a biracial family of five siblings fighting to stay in their beloved brownstone, after their curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease. Of her experience, Glaser says, "I liked the way that NaNoWriMo has a philosophy of just write, don't erase anything, don't delete anything, just write."
"I'm not sure I'd have ever written The Forest of Hands and Teeth if it weren't for NaNoWriMo." Ryan was in the middle of several other projects when she decided to participate in NaNo, but the rules stipulate that you should begin something new, i.e. write page one on day one. Casting about for ideas, she asked her husband what he thought she should write. He said, "write what you love." Taking his advice, she soon began her bestselling novel about a zombie apocalypse. Ryan wasn't one of the "winners" of NaNo, meaning she didn't reach 50,000 words during November, but she's happy with the way things turned out and says, "to me the real 'win' is that for a month you put writing first."
Don't Let Me Go is a coming-of-age novel about a romance between small-town teens, Nate and Adam. The book tackles tough issues like coming out, support (or lack of it) from parents, and violence against the LGBT community. Trumble finished her draft within the NaNo timeline and, of the experience, she says, "I owe a lot to the people at NaNoWriMo. They did for me what no other book or magazine article on writing could do. They gave me permission to suck, and they gave me a deadline. I fell in love with my characters, and now here I am."
In the fall of 2005, Bodeen was reeling after her agent deemed her previous novel drafts "unsellable." "It was do or die," she says, "so I signed up for National Novel Writing Month that November 1." Within thirty days, she completed a draft for her YA novel, The Compound. It's the story of fifteen-year-old Eli who has been living in an underground compound with his family ever since a nuclear attack six years before. The book won a 2009 Bank Street Award for Best Children's Book of the Year.
It's got to be one of the greatest NaNoWriMo success stories to date. Meyer wrote not one, but three bestselling novels during a single month! In 2008, Meyer heard about a competition in which whoever wrote the most words during the month would win a walk-on role in a Star Trek episode. And "being both a geek and a chronic overachiever," she couldn't resist. Although she didn't nab that prize, she came away with three incredible first drafts—launching the brilliant Lunar Chronicles. Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress reimagine classic fairy tales with sci-fi twists, e.g. Cinderella as a cyborg.
With more and more authors participating in NaNoWriMo every year, it's clearly a great formula for success. If you've been thinking about it, now's the time to do it! Sign up via the NaNoWriMo website and get access to daily support, author pep talks, more success stories, and virtual writing events.