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National Novel Writing Month Provides Challenge, Opportunity

Author and NaNoWriMo participant, Abigail Sharpe was motivated to write her first novel after winning her first NaNoWriMo in 2005. Photo courtesy of Abigail Sharpe.
Author and NaNoWriMo participant, Abigail Sharpe was motivated to write her first novel after winning her first NaNoWriMo in 2005. Photo courtesy of Abigail Sharpe.


November is here - bringing with it amateur and experienced writers around the globe to hammer out drafts of their novels.

This month is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, officially pronounced Na-No-Rye-Mo according to the NaNoWriMo organization staff.

NaNoWriMo is a sort of writing marathon. Its website describes the event as “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing." Starting on the first day of the month, participants begin writing a story, trying to finish a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month.

One such author is Abigail Sharpe, a Gainesville author of two romance novels and a Golden Heart Award finalist, an award given bythe Romance Writers of America, a non-profit trade association. The Golden Heart contest intends to "promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding manuscripts written by members who have not published a Novel or Novella."

While neither of her published books was written during NaNoWriMo, she is grateful to the event for giving her the motivation.

“I've started NaNo several times, but the only time ever succeeded was in 2005, the first year I did it,” she said. "The story was awful, though, but that's part of NaNo."

After completing that novel during NaNoWriMo, she said she could see herself as a writer. A year later, her first novel, "Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy," was born. And after honing her writing skills and revising her story, she signed with an agent in 2011.

This year, she’s writing a story called "Cupcake of the Month" during NaNoWriMo, the second book of a series.

NaNoWriMo welcomed 325,142 writers last year, including about 80,000 students and educators participating via the organization's Young Writers Program. Of those participants, 58,917 writers hit their goals, completing a 50,000-word draft of a novel by the end of November.

Most of these novels are never published. Most of the ones that are published go through self-publishing means like Kindle Direct Publishing, CreateSpace and iUniverse.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few success stories.  The most famous is the award-winning historical novel "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, which was adapted into a movie featuring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in 2011.

The bestselling 2011 novel "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' tenth book, “Persistence of Memory,” were also products of NaNoWriMo.

When NaNoWriMo began, it was a considered a badge of honor to say you participated, but the positive image didn’t last long. As participation steadily increased, publishers found themselves flooded with unedited and hastily written manuscripts in the months following November.

“It's definitely quantity over quality,” said Sharpe.

NaNoWriMo has made attempts to address this, and over the last couple of years it has begun to stress the importance of revision and editing in the months following the event.

Many participants now use NaNoWriMo for motivation: Create a rough product now to edit and revise in the following months.

First-time participant Sarah Wolfgang says she’s using NaNoWriMo to develop ideas and write rough drafts of stories she hopes to submit to magazines.

“I write every day anyway, but I'm doing NaNoWriMo because it is pushing me to write a little more," she said.

Mauhe is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.