• Courtney Pollman-Turner

How NANOWRIMO Got Me Published

I was sitting at a local brewery, socializing, when a friend of a friend told me that I should participate in NANO. I stared at her, confused and thinking the last word of her sentence had been lost to the noise of socializing brewery patrons. She seemed to pick up my confusion and clarified without my having to ask.

“National Novel Writing Month,” she said.


My husband, ever-supportive, had just bragged to everyone that I was writing a novel. It turned out that the friend-of-a-friend was also a writer, and she introduced me to the concept of National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that writers from all over the world (it’s clearly bigger than national as I’m in the U.S. and I know that writers across the globe participate) devote one month a year, November, to writing at least fifth-thousand words in their novel. Initially, I dismissed the idea. I had begun writing a novel in September, it was now October. It had taken me those two months two complete approximately thirty thousand words and I was not even halfway through my story. Cramming the rest of my work into a single month while working a full-time job and maintaining a healthy lifestyle felt… unrealistic.


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The next day, however, curiosity got the better of me and I found myself googling National Novel Writing Month, which I soon learned is often abbreviated as NANOWRIMO or just NANO. The NANO website had a writing tracker and there was even a NANO app that I could download to my phone. I played around with the app over the next week, using its progress tracker each time I wrote. For the next week, I wrote every single day. I had never worked so consistently on the project before and the app continued to motivate me to keep up my writing streak.


Needless to say, I quickly dove into NANOWRIMO. I had an excessive number of leave days saved up from work, courtesy of the pandemic, so I decided to take a week off during November to focus on my writing. I wish I could say that I lived a balanced life during that week, but I would wake up, caffeinate, and often write for hours before even remembering to eat. Once I found my flow, which was usually only halfway through my first cup of coffee, thoughts of my usual morning routine were out the window. I managed to get some exercise in that week, and still got plenty of sleep, but I would lose myself in the writing for hours at a time.


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I returned to work the following week with a writing hangover. It was difficult to get back into the swing of things in my regular job, which I generally enjoy very much, and each night I would get home from work and pull out my laptop. My husband would start making dinner (seriously, couldn’t do any of this without him) and I would turn on my NANO app to track my progress. Some days, I only wrote a few hundred words. One day, I was very tired and my brain felt much from a full day of work and I think I only managed to write a single sentence. But I kept coming back, every day.


Not only did I have the app to keep me motivated, but I’d joined a number of writing groups on Facebook, including some specifically set up for NANO, and they were bustling with activity all November. Everyone was sharing their struggles, triumphs, and generally encouraging others to keep going. NANO helped propel me to the finish line of my first draft. When I look back, I sometimes wonder if I would ever have managed to finish my novel without the push that NANO, and other writers, gave me last November.


It was on one of those writing group pages where I first learned about SmashBear Publishing. Someone shared a link to their new website, advertising them as a new independent publishing firm that was accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and fantasy was one of the genres they were looking for. I followed SmashBear on social media and filed them away in the back of my head as a potential first stop for my manuscript once it was cleaned up. Anyway, I needed a bit of a break before editing after pouring so much into finishing that draft…


But then, in early December, I saw a post from SmashBear Publishing calling for unedited manuscripts. I hadn’t opened mine since I’d typed “The End” somewhere toward the end of November. The thought of editing it had become overwhelming, and all I could think about were the million-and-one changes I knew I’d have to make, and all of the poorly worded sentences I would have to face as I took on editing. I was sceptical about sending in an unedited manuscript. I asked them on Instagram if they truly, genuinely, wanted submissions that were completely unedited. I remember the response: We know what we’re asking for.


This was too good to be true. I knew that if I contracted to publish, I’d have an entire editing team to help me through the process of refining my work. This motivated me to pull my manuscript back out and make a few changes for consistency (I had decided halfway through the book to change what kind of creature one of the main characters was) and sent off my first three chapters to SmashBear in the requested format. I’ll never forget the evening I received the email requesting the full manuscript. I was getting ready for bed and this was my last peek at the phone before plugging it in for the night. I was so excited that I hummed with energy. My husband kindly suggested that I consider taking a Benadryl so that I might be able to get some sleep (good call, babe).


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I sent off my full manuscript a few days later, after doing one more read through to ensure there wasn’t anything glaringly inconsistent. I then proceeded to stalk SmashBear’s Instagram and one of their authors (thanks for being so nice, Sam) for the next month while I waited, every day wondering where in the virtual pile my little manuscript sat. I cannot tell you how happy I was the day I received the email from SmashBear telling me that they’d like to make an offer on my book. I had finished the manuscript in a bit of a whirlwind and never dreamed that the first place I submitted would like it enough to make an offer (well, I did dream, but I didn’t count on that dream coming true).


Since then, I’ve enjoyed growing my relationship with SmashBear publishing. The team has been a delight to work with every step of the way, and I look forward to diving into edits with them soon! It’s mind-blowing that a brief conversation with a friend-of-a-friend (thanks, Lauren) over craft beers has led me to the accomplishment of a childhood dream. I’m going to be a published author! I’ll be using NANOWRIMO 2021 to help propel me to the finish line for the first draft of book two in the series I’m writing, and I hope that you’ll consider taking advantage of the energy that NANO provides. Join some writing groups, download the app, and get writing!


Courtney's debut novel is set for release next year (2022). Follow Courtney on all of her social media to keep up to date with her progress!!


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