Every November, thousands of writers from all over the world lock themselves in their studios to take on the enormous task of churning out 50,000 words before December. This is National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo, and it's right around the corner. Are you participating?
The writers, colloquially called Wrimos, race to see who among them will cross the 50,000 word finish line before time is up; in recognition of NaNoWriMo's breakneck writing pace — with a minimum of nearly 1,700 words per day — mere completion counts as a win. No one will revoke their licenses to write if they don't win, of course, and the Wrimo community functions as a badass support network, but that doesn't stop participants from holding themselves to a go-big-or-go-home standard.
If you're thinking of participating — and I say this as a near-professional procrastinator and 15-time NaNoWriMo loser — you're going to need all the help you can get. To that end, I've put together a survival kit of 21 books to help you win NaNoWriMo. No matter where your hang-ups lie — inspiration? plotting? motivation? — there's a title here to get you over the hump.
So get out your best note-taking equipment and settle in, folks. It's time to prep for NaNoWriMo.
No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty
NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty wrote No Plot, No Problem to help out the pantsers: in Wrimo-speak, the folks who start off the month with nothing but "a blank document and ... imagination." If you feel totally unprepared for the November writing competition, this is the book you need.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert doesn't want you to quit your day job and become a writer, but she'll support you in your decision to do so. Big Magic is about finding the means to feed and nurture your creative side in ways that fit your life. It's a must-read for any aspiring writer.
Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik
I get a certain anxiety from reading style guides. Oh my god, what if I forget everything I'm reading? Notes! I must take notes! ... I lost my notes. Thankfully, Arthur Plotnik's Spunk & Bite is not the kind of manual you'll easily forget. I think giving this one a read-through will improve anyone's writing, but don't take my word for it.
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
I don't enjoy saying this, but there is a chance you will fail as both a Wrimo and a writer. I have, at least according to my moon-high pile of rejection letters. But you know what? There's almost always a way to bounce back from a failure and turn it around. Read Brené Brown's Rising Strong to find out how the people you admire make losing work for them.
Ready, Set, Novel! by Lindsey Grant and Tavia Stewart-Streit
If you were looking at this list hoping to find a workbook for aspiring novelists, look no further. Ready, Set, Novel! has everything you need to plan and plot your book, from villain worksheets to family trees.
On Writing by Stephen King
Without a doubt, this is my favorite writing book. Stephen King's On Writing is a part-memoir, part-manual guide to crafting fiction, complete with a suggested reading list and practical tips for turning yourself into an Actual Writer.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
We've all heard "kill your darlings," and those of us who have tried a hand at self-editing know exactly how difficult that is to do. No, you say, I cannot possibly cut that 50-page description of my protagonist's foot odor. It's central to the plot! Without it, how will we ever know that his feet stink because his wife no longer loves him? The bad thing is, we both know I'm only exaggerating an eensy bit. Written by a duo of editors, this book will help you keep your writing in-check.
Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer
Sometimes you just want a book that's pretty to look at. Now, I'm not suggesting Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook doesn't contain wonderful and amazing resources for fiction writers. I'm simply saying that, even if you are not in VanderMeer's target sci-fi/fantasy demographic, Wonderbook will still be an excellent resource for sparking your creativity.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
I'm generally pretty wary of anyone who uses phrases like "freeing the writer within," but hear me out: Writing Down the Bones is great. Yes, it's crunchy; it's a Zen guide to writing, for god's sake. Natalie Goldberg is the proto-Liz Gilbert, your chill sage and wise guru of all things meditative and creative, and this 1985 book — expanded in 2005 — has all the Zenspiration you need to prep for NaNoWriMo.
20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias
Have you ever noticed just how many films and books have the same plot structure? I'm not talking about Lifetime movies and pulp novels, either, but well-respected articles of entertainment. The truth is, there's nothing new under the sun, so being "creative" and "original" often hinges on whether you can spin what's been done into what hasn't. In 20 Master Plots, Ronald B. Tobias shows you how to identify the plot you're using and milk it for all it's worth.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
Brandon Stanton hit on something fantastic when he started photographing New Yorkers and listening to their stories. Now everyone loves Humans of New York, and the book is your one-stop shop for quirky character traits and can't-make-this-stuff-up storytelling.
The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
It's easy enough to say you won't let anything stop you from becoming an Actual Writer, but putting that mantra into practice when the rejection letters keep pouring in and even your mom thinks you're on a fool's errand? That's another matter. Fortunately, Julia Cameron's The Right to Write has escape strategies for every writer's pitfall.
Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School by Alexander Steele
From the hallowed halls of the Gotham Writers' Workshop comes a tome of advice, literary analysis, and exercises designed to hone your craft. Like a course unto itself, Writing Fiction will get you hyped-up and tempered for NaNoWriMo.
Mastery by Robert Greene
Mastery wasn't written with writers in mind, but that doesn't mean it isn't applicable to the struggle. Examining what makes major figures — such as Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci — masters of their crafts, Robert Greene dispels the mystery surrounding genius to show how reverence and respect may be attained.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
From choreographer Twyla Tharp comes The Creative Habit, a life manual centered on one key point: that in order to be creative you must make a habit of being creative. Full of practical advice for artists of all stripes, Tharp's book needs to be on your NaNoWriMo prep list.
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
A style guide of a different color, Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools distills the entire craft into 50 learn-able points, from sentence construction to character building. Even if you think, But I already know how to write, add this book to your TBR.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
On November 1, writing 50,000 words in 30 days seems a monstrous thing to ask of yourself. The task looms large, and self-doubt takes out your knees. To keep yourself from getting caught in the headlights, check out Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and remember: you aren't writing a novel all at once, but one piece at a time.
The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies
The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction has two volumes: Building Blocks and Inspiration and Discipline. You'll want to go out and grab both when you can. The Glimmer Train literary magazine is more exclusive than Harvard, so, if you hope to one day publish your NaNoWriMo work, these two books are perfect pre-competition reading.
The Eleventh Draft: Craft and the Writing Life from the Iowa Writers' Workshop by Frank Conroy
For roughly 80 years, the Iowa Writers' Workshop has been the gold standard of MFA programs. Of course, attending it will be a pipe dream for most of us, and that's why this book made the cut. Comprised of 23 essays from the Workshop's affiliated professors and alumni, The Eleventh Draft gives readers a peek at life in — and after — the University of Iowa's prestigious creative writing program.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
Some Wrimos don't have any interest in publishing what they write. For those who want to see their names on bestseller lists, however, agent Donald Maass has unpacked the common traits of novels that put their authors on the literary map. By reading Writing the Breakout Novel, you'll learn how to break away from the slush pack and pen the book everyone is talking about.
Time to Write by Kelly L. Stone
I don't know any writer who has never lamented her lack of time to write. Even if you're putting in 40 hours a week at your keyboard or composition book, it never feels like enough. But if you're having trouble finding an hour's worth of writing time a day, Kelly L. Stone's Time to Write is the kick in the rear you need to get yourself into your desk chair and primed for NaNoWriMo devotion.