Writers, it’s the month we’ve been dreading (and secretly waiting for). With November’s National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) hovering over us for 30 days with the promise of churning out a 50,000-word novel by the end of it, hope might be in short supply.
If you’ve already jotted down our tips to conquer NaNo, completing the challenge might still feel like a myth. Fortunately, here are quick sources of inspo that might boost your writing levels in times of trouble: books made during the November challenge that lived to tell their tale—and successfully published, to boot.
“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
Written over the course of several NaNoWriMos, this fantasy world focuses on the generations-long war between two dueling magicians of the Le Cirque des Rêves, a.k.a. The Night Circus. When the magicians’ young proxies end up falling in love, it soon spells trouble for their world. (Hello, star-crossed enemies-to-lovers.)
“You do not have to make your story perfect right now. You don’t even have to get it right. You only need to get it on the page. That’s all.”
“The Mango Bride” by Marivi Soliven
In this Palanca Grand Prize-winning novel, two different stories of Filipina women—Amparo, exiled by her rich family to the U.S., and Beverly, a waitress turned mail-order bride—collide in California, as both get entangled in each other’s immigrant dreams (and nightmares).
“In addition to a NaNoWriMo-initiated habit of writing daily from 6 to 8 a.m., I commenced typing on my laptop at every free moment: by the skating rink, between calls at the day job, on long road trips as my husband drove.”
“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
Remember that 2011 film with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon? Yep, it started out as a NaNo project. The Great Depression-set book puts recently orphaned vet student Jacob Jankowski in center stage as he finds himself rubbing elbows with a performing troupe and their circus. There, he’s put in charge of the menagerie, where he meets the star Marlena—the wife of the circus’ twisted animal trainer.
“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.”
“Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell
Twin sisters Cath and Wren are just like any other person you’d meet on Stan Twitter. Their fixation for the Simon Snow universe—a fictional fantasy series—runs deep: They’re on forums, groups, and they’ve written their fair share of fanfic. But when Wren decides to cut ties with the fantasy ’verse just as they’re about to enter college, Cath begins to struggle with the loss of her sister’s companionship and the one thing they’ve used as a coping mechanism against the real world.
“I set three goals: 1) To write every day. 2) To write at least 2,000 words every day. 3) And—this was crucial for me—to keep moving forward. (…) With ‘Fangirl,’ my NaNoWriMo project, I picked up wherever I’d left off and kept moving. I never looked back.”
“Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins
Way before “Emily in Paris,” the young adult book world had Anna, a high school student sent to an international school in France against her wishes. She gets homesick, meets new folks that quicken the healing process, and of course, finds herself in a love dilemma while in the City of Lights. Some would dub it as a “guilty pleasure,” but we aren’t “guilty” of loving romance here.
“If you get stuck, take your protagonist down a different path. This isn’t the draft that you’re going to publish. This is the draft that will help you figure out what story you’re really trying to tell.”
“The Summoning” by Kelley Armstrong
The first book of the bestselling “Darkest Powers” trilogy is centered on 15-year-old Chloe, who has the unsettling skill of seeing dead people right before her. Despite her hard attempts at staying low-key, a violent ghost attacks her, sending Chloe on a one-way trip to Lyle House, a center for disturbed teens—supposedly. After some time, she begins to question the home’s true purpose when her roommates disappear and other kids start showing their own paranormal behavior.
“[One of NaNoWriMo’s rewards is] one full month of writing practice. It’s a rare writer who publishes the first book they wrote—I didn’t—so practice is invaluable. And whether you dream of getting published or not, you have just spent a month discovering and exploring the joys of storytelling.”
“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer
In a series that may hit too close to home, this sci-fi Cinderella retelling sees an Earth ravaged by a deadly plague. During these troubling times, the leaders of the planet consult with sketchy but powerful extraterrestrials who hold the cure to save Earth’s citizens. Little do they know, half-human, half-cyborg Cinder might be the saving grace—if she breaks out from her evil stepmother and stepsisters first.
“These are the times when we must proceed on willpower and caffeine and the unflappable confidence that each word we write is one word closer to a finished novel. I can promise that, tough as those times may be, they often lead to some of our most proud and beautiful writing moments.”
“Wool” by Hugh Howey
Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, humankind has lived underground for generations, with talk of the outdoors forbidden and punishable by law. Those dreamers—whose optimism is banned in fear of it being infectious to others—are inflicted one penalty: to walk outside, just as they wish.
“If you are having a difficult time finishing your novel, try writing the final chapter. Too often, we get lost in the middle of our books, unsure of where we are heading. Create that final destination, then go back and write scenes that get you a step closer. Don’t worry, you’ll clean it all up in the revision process.”
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Art by Yel Sayo