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Half of Americans Think They've Got a Good Idea for a Novel

And More That We Learned From Our Poll of American Writers

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • November 02, 2021

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): an annual event in which thousands of writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in just thirty days. In celebration, we enlisted OnePoll to survey 2,000 Americans about their novel-writing (and reading!) tendencies. And we got a pretty good story out of it too! Here are some of our key plot points.

1. Getting started is half the battle.

Although more than half of Americans think they've got a good idea for a novel, only 15 percent have started writing. About 6 percent say they're at least halfway through and 8 percent of respondents have finished their pièce de résistance. So it seems fair to say that if you get started, you have a 50 percent chance of finishing. Encouraging!

Then again, if you're struggling with writer's block or coming up with an ending, don't beat yourself up about it. This is a very common problem among even the most successful of authors. When Henry Miller was struggling to complete his first novel, Tropic of Cancer, he wrote a set of eleven commandments to keep himself on track. Here are a few of them:

  • Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add fertilizers.
  • Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

Sound advice! You can find the complete list of eleven commandments in his book on writing. For more writing resources, check out this NaNoWriMo post from a couple years ago.

2. We're never too old (or young) to start.

Respondents reported starting their first novel anywhere from under ten to well over fifty. This bears out in some popular authors we like including Christopher Paolini who self-published his bestselling first book, Eragon, when he was just fifteen and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, a published author at fourteen, who used NaNoWriMo to finish several of her yarns like Hawksong and Bloodwitch.

As for authors who published their first books in their later years, there are plenty of those too! Some of the more famous of these are Laura Ingalls Wilder who published Little House in the Big Woods, the first in her beloved Little House series, when she was sixty-five and Frank McCourt, who was sixty when he published Angela's Ashes, a memoir of his childhood. Another debut novelist of note is Delia Owens who was seventy when she published her 2019 bestseller, Where the Crawdads Sing.

3. Aspiring writers may consider YA a good starting point.

Three in five respondents said they thought it would be easier to write young adult or children's fiction than novels for adults. It may be true! It's probably not a coincidence that several notable titles that have come out of NaNoWriMo fall into these categories. Here are some that we like:

As for the genre a NaNoWriMoer might choose, popular responses included romance, like Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, mystery, like Losing Faith by Denise Jaden and comedy, like Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl.

4. We're fascinated by . . . ourselves.

More than half of respondents said that they thought their own life was worthy of being made into a book or a movie. Interestingly, people who identified as avid readers were almost two times more likely to make this determination.

In any case, when it comes to who they wanted to write their life story, popular choices included Chinua Achebe, J. K. Rowling, and Stephen King. Dream big! As for who they would cast as themselves in the movie version, choices ranged from Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock to Denzel Washington and Al Pacino.

5. We have gained an appreciation for required reading.

Poll results also showed that although half of respondents weren't keen on assigned reading in school, 62 percent have since fallen in love with those classic tomes like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, and The Catcher in the Rye, with the transformation usually happening about a decade later.

6. Down with censorship!

We also asked respondents for their opinions on banning books (they're generally against it!) and gave them an opportunity to identify those that they particularly care about from this list of frequently targeted classics:

As NaNoWriMo kicks off this year, we can practically feel the electric buzz of creative energy filling the air. It's an exciting time. As always, we love hearing from you. So let us know if you have any thoughts on what our survey revealed in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where we share daily book recommendations, literary tidbits, and more.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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