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Novels that became popular books by participating in NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is an opportunity for many writers to employ their creativity and write a novel. These great books came out of this initiative!

Once November 1st shows up, hundreds of thousands of people from different countries grab their favorite writing tools, whether it’s a used notebook whose pages have ink stains or a word document that’s waiting for you to start typing. What makes this month so special for fans of creative writing to the point of squeezing the last drop of their imagination before the end of November? 

The answer to this question is the National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. Thanks to this, visionary writers can develop their skills, access a wide variety of programs, and even get the chance to get published! In fact, some popular books within the literary community participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge. 

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Had they not dared, perhaps the world could never have known the creative stories of these authors!

What's NaNoWriMo?

This non-profit organization started in 1999 as an overwhelming yet exciting challenge by Chris Baty, a freelance writer. The main goal? To write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Nowadays, this worldwide event is an opportunity for many writers around the world to employ their creativity and come up with a novel while being supported. The best part of it? Being part of a global community in an event that’s completely free!

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Since 2006, NaNoWriMo has published around 400 novels with well-known publishing houses alongside 200 novels with independent publishers. Here are a few titles that may sound familiar to you.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This successful 2006’s historical romance novel about veterinary Jacob Janowski and Marlena, an equestrian married to a cruel animal trainer, started its journey as a NaNoWriMo project. The Canadian-American author, Sara Gruen, gave a pep talk at the organization and shared her experience during her writing process, managing to bond with the audience. “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,” said Gruen. 

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Once her book hit the shelves of global bookstores, Water for Elephants earned awards, such as 2007’s Alex Awards, became a New York Times Best Seller, and even got a film adaptation starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.

[Image: Daniel X. O'Neil]

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is a fantasy novel written throughout three NaNoWriMo contests. Erin started the first draft of her fantasy novel in 2005, and her book was published in 2011. With an enchanting atmosphere set during Victorian London, the novel delves around a mysterious circus that appears out of nowhere. A pair of competitive magicians, Morgenstern’s book captivated millions of readers. 

In 2011, The Night Circus was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, won an Alex Award in 2012, and was among the New York Time’s Best Sellers list. Erin explained her experience in her pep talk as the following: “The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: When in doubt, just add ninjas.” She also advised writers to take risks to surprise themselves.

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[Instagram: @erinmorgenstern]

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

A favorite among YA fiction fans, Fangirl is one of Rainbow Rowell’s most well-known books. This contemporary book narrates the coming-of-age story of freshman Cath. Fangirl managed to get several readers to identify themselves with it since the university stage is a challenge for many.

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Rowell was a bit unconvinced to enter the NaNoWriMo contest, for she was already an established author thanks to her books Eleanor & Park and Attachments. Nevertheless, she decided to participate in the challenge, ending up with a book that actually surpassed 50,000 words. 

“With Fangirl, my NaNoWriMo project, I picked up wherever I’d left off and kept moving. I never looked back,” explained Rowell in her NaNoWriMo speech.

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[Instagram: @rainbowrowell]

Wool by Hugh Howey

This post-apocalyptic science fiction story began as a self-published NaNoWriMo novel that would later be republished by Simon and Schuster. Wool turned out to be a New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller that merged the genres of science-fiction and thriller. From being a short story, this project would evolve into the first novel of Silo, Hugh Howey’s series. 

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When talking about his participation, Howey stated that the NaNoWriMo contest was a life-changing experience for him. “I don’t think I’d be a professional writer were it not for NaNoWriMo,” said Howey to Publishers Weekly. “I was writing on airplanes and in airports, every morning at hotels, in the back of taxis, on the sidewalk waiting for my publicist to pick me up. Learning that focus—and having it reinforced every year through NaNoWriMo—is what allows me to write for a living.”

[Instagram: @hughhowey]

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder became the debut novel of the now-famous American writer Marissa Meyer. This 2012’s YA science fiction book is a retelling of the classic fairytale Cinderella. This would be the basis of The Lunar Chronicles fantasy saga, where Meyer would be in charge of giving a twist to stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. 

[Instagram: @marissameyerauthor]

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In her NaNoWriMo pep talk, Marissa Meyer gave this advice: “Never fear. Anyone who has ever written ‘The End’ on a manuscript knows that, sometimes, inspiration eludes us. No one looks forward to those lulls in the writing process, but they are natural, and they can be overcome.”

Cover photo: IG: @rainbowrowell and @marissameyerauthor

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