Breakaway NaNoWriMo Success Stories to Keep You Writing

While for many Americans November was filled with Trump and turkey, for 15,691,376 writers around the globe it meant a brave (and caffeinated) attempt to write an entire novel in thirty days. Yes—we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month, an annual event where aspiring authors challenge themselves to write fifty thousand words from November 1 to November 30. (GFP’svery own Kim Bridges participated last year and lived to tell the story.)

The goal of NaNoWriMo is not to produce a polished, reader-ready manuscript but rather to encourage aspiring authors to kill the inner critic and take the first, and arguably most important, step in the writing process. NaNo-ers will tell you that the biggest challenge is getting the words on paper, never mind creating a readable piece of work. But you may be surprised to learn some bestselling books actually started out as NaNoWriMo projects. Have you heard of Water for Elephants? Fangirl? For all of the determined NaNo-ers approaching the homestretch (you can do it!), we hope these success stories give you that extra boost to power through the final two days. And for the reluctant writers thinking about joining next year, we hope this list will persuade you. Even if you don’t make it on a bestseller list, it just might catalyze your publishing dreams.

Fangirl—Rainbow Rowell

NaNoWriMo inspired Rainbow Rowell to write Fangirl, a New York Times Notable Children’s Book she considers some of her “bravest writing.” Fangirl follows the journey of Cath, a freshman in college and vehement fan of Simon Snow. When her twin sister, Wren, decides she doesn’t want to be roommates, Cath is overwhelmed by the responsibility to make new friends but finds an escape in writing fan fiction.

Water for Elephants—Sara Gruen

This enchanting page-turner chronicles Jacob’s memories as a performer in the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. After spending two NaNoWRiMo’s writing Water for Elephants, Gruen sold her work to Algonquin, and it soon topped the 2007 New York Times bestseller list. In 2011, the story hit the big screen in a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.

Wool—Hugh Howey

Sheriff Holston has obeyed the strict laws of his society for years, but when he asks to leave, a drastic series of events is unleashed upon the community. This suspense-filled, post-apocalyptic thriller is one of the books responsible for putting self-publishing on the map—and it all began as a NaNoWriMo project. After selling thousands of ebooks, Howey signed a deal with a major publisher and eventually made it to the New York Times bestseller list.

The Night Circus—Erin Morgenstern

When she first started her NaNoWriMo journey, Morgenstern began The Night Circus with “no plot but lots of atmosphere.” It wasn’t until she reached thirty thousand words that Morgenstern decided to send her characters to the circus. What began as fifty thousand words of unconnected scenes earned an Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2012 and a seven-week spot on the New York Times bestseller list.