Nov 1 2011 2:30pm

NaNoWriMo Success Stories

NaNoWriMo Success Stories

National Novel Writing Month, more affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, started its thirteenth year last night/this morning at midnight. You have a month to write a 50,000-word novel — just creating, no editing or backtracking — and you’ve got 200,000 people working alongside you on their own passion projects. A wonderful component of NaNo is the public “write-ins” with your fellow novelists in your town, or online with other writers. There’s nothing like a shared goal to inspire you.

It also helps that there are a number of success stories where NaNo drafts eventually became published novels. And would you believe me if I told you that one of them was adapted into a 2011 movie starring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson?


NaNoWriMo Success Stories

Gayle Brandeis, Self Storage

Brandeis’ novel bears some resemblance to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: It’s a post-9/11 tale wherein a woman finds a mysterious note in a storage locker — reading simply “yes” — and searches out the owner of the unit. Brandeis wrote the book during the 2003 NaNo festivities and says that it really trained her to be more regimented and stick to concrete goals. “I found it interesting to work with a daily word count... it was so unlike my usual loosey-goosey process, and it led to some fun, surprising work,” she tells NPR. “It also taught me that I can be a disciplined writer if I need to be; now when I have a deadline, I give myself a daily word count to keep the words moving forward.”


Trish Doller, My Way or the Highway

Doller unabashedly admits that she wasn’t an “ideal” NaNo writer: She didn’t get very far when she tried in 2004 and 2005, and she didn’t complete her 2006 novel until July of 2007. But those extra months of writing helped her complete a draft, which was enough to get the attention of the agent who represented the book that first inspired Doller to write. After she got representation, everything came in a flurry: Sale, revisions, publication!


Lani Diane Rich, Time Off for Good Behavior and Maybe Baby

Rich is an example of the reluctant novelist who figures she’ll throw caution to the wind with this thirty-day experiment and winds up with a writing career out of it. Her first NaNo was in 2003; according to NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty, Rich’s manuscript for that year nabbed her a two-book deal with Warner Books. She holds the very specific honor of being the first unpublished author who published a NaNovel.


NaNoWriMo Success Stories

James R. Strickland, Looking Glass

The official list of published NaNovelists (about 30 in total) is mostly female, but there are a couple men who clawed their way up as well. Strickland offers some fascinating insight into the long, grueling process of shaping his first cyberpunk novel. He reminds his readers that the 50,000-word NaNovel should be a beginning point, not a completed draft; in revising Looking Glass, he “tore out close to half the body of the Nano draft and rewrote or replaced the scenes.” But he didn’t even get into the groove of writing the book (in 2004) until he transplanted the world of a failed cyberpunk novel he started in 1990. Another huge impact on writing his first draft was the 2004 election that took place that November.


Julia Crouch, Cuckoo

Crouch credits the extensive NaNo community with providing quick answers and insights; otherwise, the labor of fact-checking would seriously slow down her or any other writer. Writing the thriller Cuckoo also taught her to just trust her instincts. “If a new story thread comes up that I have not prepared for,” she says, “or a character develops a new trait that was unforeseen, I just roll with it.”


Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants

NaNoWriMo Success Stories

Arguably the most mainstream success story, Gruen is a NaNo superstar who’s used the annual write-a-thon to draft three novels. Her most well-known, Water for Elephants, became a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into the movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. (However, though she got a writing credit on IMDb for the novel, Gruen didn’t write the screenplay. That honor went to screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, who did P.S. I Love You and The Horse Whisperer.) 

Gruen was asked to write a Pep Talk for NaNo-ers in 2007, where she confessed to falling behind on word count but still imparted valuable advice: “However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.”

However, Chris Baty stresses that “success” in NaNo doesn’t necessarily equal publication. “I read through the NaNoWriMo forums at the end of the event every year,” he says, “and always get weepy at the posts where people say: ’I just did this thing I never thought I could do. I found a part of myself that I didn’t know existed. And now I’m wondering what else is in there.’”


While you’re tapping away the keys, here are some pep talks from people who have also been there and back: Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce, Lemony Snicket, Philip Pullman, Naomi Novik, Maureen Johnson, Holly Black, Piers Anthony, and the late Brian Jacques.

So, what about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Did you participate last year? What are your goals this time around? Share and share alike! Let’s talk about tomorrow’s classics! (And oxymorons, while we’re at it...)

A huge thank-you to Oakton Community College, whose research into published NaNo novels gave me several starting points for this post.

Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes. You can find her on Twitter.

Tracy Durnell
1. kaeldra
I participated (and completed) in 2003, and am thinking about doing it again this year! I've been "stuck" on my draft from 2003 ever since, unable to think about writing anything else, and have essentially rewritten the story three times (and still not "done"). I'm hoping that forcing myself to write something else will help me break away...
Lianne Burwell
2. LKBurwell
Also, hot new novel, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstein, is a NaNo novel, according to various news articles.

This year is my 12th year of doing NaNo. I'm rewriting an earlier NaNo novel, because I've got some ideas about why it went completely off the rails last time around. Hopefully this time will get me closer to having an actual ending. And a story that is a bit more focused, since I kept going off on tangents before.
5. AlBrown
My NaNoWriMo novel from last year is in the Tor YA slushpile as we speak. This year, I'm starting the sequel (how's that for optimism?).
The encouragement this program provides for writers is great. I had written a lot of shorter fiction, but might never have worked up the courage to write in longer form had a friend not encouraged me to sign up and give it a try.
Cheryl Brown
6. jazzsinger
Yep. I've been Nano-ing since 2006. It's pretty much the only book I write each year, and achieving that is a wonderful feeling. Not finishing is a good lesson too, I guess!
I love November and Chris Baty for starting such an inspiring institution.
7. TansyRR
My most recent Nano novel (from 2009, had to skip last year because of publisher deadlines) will be published in February, the third in my Creature Court trilogy. Only the first 50K was written with Nano but it still counts, right? (I had a 3 month old baby that November so actually, hell yes it counts, talk about harnessing Nanowrimo magic to make the impossible happen!)

The other novel I wrote for Nano in 2008 hasn't been published, though it was under contract at the time (with a small press that I parted ways with later after they didn't publish the first book I had sold them).

It occurs to me belatedly that this is the first year I am writing a Nanowrimo novel that isn't already contracted to a publisher! Truly, I make a habit of doing everything the wrong way around.

I do love the Nano community, though, and heartily missed being part of it last year. There's something buzzy and wonderful about hanging out with a group of people typing madly in a room, or a cafe together.

Though sadly it is much easier to write in a cafe with a 3 month old than with a 2 year old.
Kim B
8. Amaranthine
This is the fifth year I've participated, and I'm hoping to win for the fourth time running. It's changed me-- ever since I participated that first year, I've known that I want to write novels for the rest of my life.
It's such a fun, inspiring community, and the pep talks really are great. Hopefully someday soon I'll have a novel in the Tor slushpile as well!
9. Rochelle Melander
My 2009 NaNo project was published this fall by writers digest books. Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) helps both fiction and nonfiction writers write their books fast. This year I am working on a series of chapter books for kids. I am blogging about NaNo at my site: writenowcoach.com
10. Sammantha
2010 was the first year I participated. 50k in words on a story not yet finished, The Messenger of La Santa Muerte . Definately transgressive fiction. I got frustrated with my writing style in the first chapter. I stopped writing it long enough to learn what a 40 Point Plot was. Then I was back onto the story. Didn't finish due to lack of time.

This year's story is The Strange Case of Prince Charming and Ugly Marmalade. This is an erotic romance focused piece. I've quite a bit experience with 40 plot points now and am working on learning how to write sub-plots.

That's how I think of NaNoWriMo: an opportunity to learn.
11. Tucci78
Tsk. And you were so hungry for male writers.

L. Neil Smith recently published his 2009 NaNoWriMo product, Sweeter Than Wine (Phoenix Pick, 2011). One reviewer commented:
All of Smith's stuff has, as it very well should, a Heinlein flavor, but this book more than most. The protagonist has the air of Heinlein's competent man, who knows how the world works, and has developed an ethical code to cope with it - more of a challenge than most of us have, given his special peculiarity. He's like Lazarus Long, but with a personality. And in keeping with both the vampire tradition and the Smith tradition, there are some shootouts, interesting information about weaponry, a lost love story worthy of Japanese anime, and a villain. Whoa, this is a real villain he makes Voldemort look like Heinz Doofenshmirtz. This guy will give you the willies.

The why aren't we all vampires by now problem is solved, neatly and not at all in a contrived way, and we are treated to some education on police procedure, biology, history, and paleontology. Not bad for a short novel.
Mr. Smith announced his intention to jump into NaNoWriMo before he started Sweeter Than Wine, and then delivered.

Having read the work, I'm kinda sorry that November 2009 was only thirty days long. I could do with an even larger dose of what he did in this story.

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