Turning My NaNoWriMo Project into a Published Novel

8th January 2024
5 min read
11th January 2024

Author Brittany N. Williams shares how she turned her NaNoWriMo project into a fully-fledged novel.

That Self-Same Metal Book cover

On 1 November, nearly six years ago, I started NaNoWriMo for my seventh time. I’d won twice before, passing that daunting 50,000 words finish line with chaotic and incomplete stories. Those successes sat as proof that I could successfully excavate that much text from my imagination and buoyed me through all the other times I had and would fall short. But I was determined to make 2018 different. I wouldn’t only hit my 50k goal, I’d actually complete the arc and write my story to the end. I dove into the first of the next thirty days determined and ready.

Dear reader, I made it to 30 November with less than 13,000 words in my draft. I’d seemingly failed NaNoWriMo again, substantially. But, that incomplete story that I started in 2018 went on to become That Self-Same Metal, my first published book, my first completed novel, and the first book in a trilogy. That failure wasn’t a failure at all because NaNoWriMo itself isn’t the finish line, it stands as a mile marker in the marathon that is publishing and the life of a working author. Once you take that lesson to heart, taking your frantic November draft to the next stage becomes not easy but obvious.

So, what was my strategy? The first thing I had to do was release the shame of not successfully writing 50,000 words in thirty days. I’d had more practice losing NaNo than winning, but the over-achieving student that still resides in very much adult me had to grieve this defeat too. However, with one goal missed the second remained and more than I needed that 50k in 30, I needed to complete my story. I spent the next several months scrabbling for the words to drag the images I saw in my head out onto the page. I did my best to hold fast to the practices that get you through those wild November days: I turned off my inner editor, I took notes whenever inspiration hit, I wrote wherever I could on whatever I had—my laptop, my iPad, my phone, my notebook. I told people that I was finishing my novel. I did write-ins with friends, most were already prolific authors so I hoped to absorb some of that mojo just by working in close proximity. Eventually, through sheer stubborn determination—which is the only way to ever finish a novel—I made it to the end of my story…at 34,400 words. A goal accomplished. I felt the sun-bright glow of my new achievement despite still missing that illusive 50k. That joy carried me to the next, and most essential step of novel writing: revisions.

Brittany WilliamsI took that precious finished draft—that was as good as I could make it in that moment—and gave it to a trusted reader for feedback. The trust here is key, you don’t want to hand your fledgling novel over to someone ready to offer critique with no care. In this early moment, both you and your story are extremely vulnerable, raw in ways both beautiful and hideous. The wrong voice could be the difference between an abandoned idea and a launchpad sending you off into your next draft. Know the kind of feedback you respond best to and find someone who can provide that. I know I need kindness blended with firm honesty. Once that was accomplished, and I tweaked and twisted, cajoled and carved my story into the next best novel I could write: better but still not there. From there, it became rounds of iterations, first with my agent, then with my editor, until what started as less than 13k in 2018 hit shelves as a robust 78,000 word novel in April 2023. Quite the journey for something that began as a loss.

Ultimately, the surest way to turn your NaNoWriMo project into a published novel is to keep working at it bit by bit. Seek feedback from a few trusted people and read your own work without judgement. Then, keep shaping it into the best book you can in that moment until you find yourself in a place where you feel you can release your story into the world. I’ll be honest, that last part is possibly the hardest of all because there’s always something that can be changed or tweaked just so. But, as is the core tenant of National Novel Writing Month, we’re not striving for perfection. To get a novel into the hands of a reader, your story must be done. So, go forth and revise until your best work is ready to become someone’s favourite book.

Brittany N. Williams is an actress, singer, and author of the YA historical fantasy That Self-Same Metal. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Howard University (HU, You Know) and an MA in Classical Acting from the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama (Carrie Fisher’s alma mater for 18 months). Brittany has performed across three continents—including a year spent as a principal vocalist at Hong Kong Disneyland—and her writing has been featured on BlackNerdProblems.com, Tor.com, in The Indypendent, The Gambit, Fireside Magazine, and in the Star Wars anthology From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @BrittanyActs and at brittanynwilliams.com.

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