Congratulations to the five winners of our first-ever NaNoWriMo Essay Challenge!

Each winner receives $500, and we’ll be donating $500 for EACH winner to the NaNoWriMo Organization in celebration of NaNoWriMo and all it stands for!

The Challenge was to write an essay that answered this question:

Tell us in 500 words or less what it will mean to you to complete the NaNoWriMo Challenge in November and FINALLY write the book you’ve always dreamed of writing.

All five of our winners shared touching accounts of their goals, hopes, and dreams as they relate to at last writing the book they’ve always dreamed of writing.

Enjoy the following winning essays …

Commit or Quit: Conquering SOS with NaNoWriMo

By Syndee Barwick

Barefoot Writer Syndee Barwick
Barefoot Writer Syndee Barwick

At last count, I have one hundred and seven ideas, synopses, titles, elevator pitches, log lines, outlines, and short stories ripe for development in a variety of genres, as well as two dozen nonfiction book outlines.

Clearly, my idea well runs deep.

“You do not have a creative problem,” mused my friend and former agent a few years ago, “you have a commitment problem.”

While I didn’t need to be told, I knew the commitment to myself and my writing (or lack thereof) morphed into wisps of dream whilst in the midst of creativity and research.

Especially research.

It leads down a path paved with idea gems, sparkling tidbits of fascinating information, and a kaleidoscope of possibilities, waving me in a new direction filled with excitement, series suggestions, and …

Wait. Where was I? What was I writing about?

Yes, it happens just like that. Hours melt from the day in chunks of research amnesia and within drops of the most arcane (and many times inane) information, things that I know I can use. You know, at some point in a future project, and therefore must be carefully annotated and filed away.

It’s what some call “SOS” — Shiny Object Syndrome. It’s our worst enemy, a monster of distraction which derails writers from typing THE END on every project started. When anything and everything read and researched seems so much more intriguing than YOUR NaNoWriMo project.

Confession #1: I suffer from this affliction. Here are a few symptoms of the Syndrome:

  1. Seeing everything as a story spark
  2. Knowing a lot about, well, a lot
  3. Ability to recount and recite bizarre facts
  4. Hoarding tasty bits of information that only excite you
  5. Not knowing on which project to work — or start

This last one causes acute paralysis. Too much information, too many ideas (all great, of course *sarcasm*): which one is THE ONE? How could I participate in NaNoWriMo with all these choices?

Confession #2: I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. Why? Because I couldn’t commit all that time to just one project (courtesy of SOS). I’ve thought about it, wanted to do it, yet never carried through. And guess what? I’m still exactly where I was: with unfinished books.

Confession #3 (and final): This essay is my public distress signal. Because if I admit to it (SOS), commit to it (NaNoWriMo and my craft), I’m less likely to quit (the project on which I’m now outlining).

Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” Indeed, I’ve experienced my share of terror.

Entering NaNoWriMo and completing my supernatural YA thriller during November will prove to me that I can be successful. It means I can focus, rein in the SOS, harness the fear, and finish.     

Although completing my novel during NaNoWriMo may not crush SOS completely, it’ll quell the urge and conquer my fear of commitment

I’m no quitter.

NaNoWriMo, here I come.

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A Covered Wagon in the Shed

By  Kara Metlen

Barefoot Writer Kara Metlen
Barefoot Writer Kara Metlen

I don’t remember feeling nervous when she read my words to the class.

“This sounds just like Laura Ingalls Wilder,” my 4th grade teacher said when she handed me back my mini-manuscript.


She told me all about the Little House on the Prairie books that took place in the 19th Century. Mine was a covered wagon story, too, with Ma and Pa and a couple of stubborn kids. Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.

That afternoon, I ran five blocks home to beg my mom for those books. And then I headed straight out the back door.

Sitting cross-legged among the boxes in our dank, backyard shed, I made my own book cover from some dusty manila folders. I hand-bound my masterpiece with remnants from my grandma’s knitting yarn.

When I burst into the kitchen to show my mom, the look on her face stumped me.

“You’ll never earn a living writing, dear” she said, tucking my book under her arm. “Just go to school and study something real. You don’t want to be a bag lady when you grow up.”

My mother spent most of her life convinced she’d be homeless one day, which was ironic. She and my dad had started with nothing, but built an incredibly nice life for our family. Yet there was no amount of savings that could ease her fears.

So my hand-bound novella found its way into a musty cabinet in that same outdoor shed, among other discarded treasures. I went to check on it now and then, but for some reason, I left it out there. And one day, it disappeared. 

That was the first book I’d ever written. And the last. 

I’m reluctant to say how many decades it’s been since that book vanished. Or how many story ideas I’ve shoved aside and forgotten.

But a few have stuck. And those characters play out scenes in my head, day after day, year after year.

They’re almost real … Names. Families. Dreams of their own. They have lives they’re insistent on living. And every year, instead of giving up, they get a little pushier.

Now that I’ve discovered NaNoWriMo, they’re practically refusing to take no for an answer. They’re sifting through plot ideas in the back of my head, and bickering with the echoes that won’t stop whispering, “Bag lady.”

In order to make them all shut up, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and signed up for NaNoWriMo today. 30 days, 50,000 words, and a zillion butterflies in my gut.

At the end of it all, I’ll be an author once again. And decades of living out someone else’s fear will evaporate. Or better yet, become the inspiration for my next book.

So try not to worry, Mom. Worst case scenario, I’ll be the proudest bag lady ever, pushing around a virtual shopping cart filled with autographed copies of my brand-new book.

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A Letter to My Book

By Marina Davalos

Barefoot Writer Marina Davalos
Barefoot Writer Marina Davalos

Dear Astral Coffee,

You’ve heard this all before, over the years, but I’m writing to let you know that I promise I will finish you this year, and we both will thrive. I’ve been a hypocrite, going on and on about how “in the flow” I feel while I’m working on you, yet I stop for long periods of time and you sink to the back corners of my mind and we both stagnate. I apologize.

When I started writing you in 2003, having returned from Guatemala with the experience of you, I had two entire journals full from that month in the meditation center, but I couldn’t fathom: how does one even write a book? I knew I had to get you out to the world, so I volunteered at the Maui Writers’ Conference. For all the workshops on writing, publishing, editing, and talking with famous people, what I learned all boiled down to this: books get written by people writing them.

So I set to work on my first draft of you. It sucked, remember? But I finished it. Then I went back to the MWC the next year, and I pitched you to two agents, and both said, “Send me your first three chapters.” Wow, we were on our way!

The problem was coming up with those chapters. I changed you and changed you. You had so many almost-incarnations: third-person fiction; memoir; first-person fiction; journal form; historical fiction. The years passed and I never ended up sending in those first three chapters. In the back of my mind I told you, “I’ll finish you, don’t worry, just not right now.”

You come to me in my dreams; I know you’re finished in the future. You’ve shown me. I’ve seen the different versions of your cover, I’ve listened to the soundtrack from the movie that was made from you, I’ve seen the DVD. If only I could finish you!

I wrote another draft of you in 2011, and at the Cape Cod Writers’ Conference, an agent nearly killed us. She read our first 10 pages and gave us an hour-long consultation, saying, we didn’t have “beginning velocity.” Ouch! I completely overreacted, and ended up shelving you. Do I really want to write a book?

Three years later, you dragged me kicking and screaming back to the CCWC. You were desperate. I took some workshops, and began writing you again. You made me join NaNaWriMo, a surefire way for me to finish you, and I did pretty well, but ultimately I got out of it by using the excuse, “I just have too much going on right now.”

My dear Astral Coffee, you are such a part of me, and I owe it to us to sit myself down and finish you. You’ve heard it all before, blah blah blah; but this year, I promise to join NaNoWriMo, and finish you. May we both have the chance to thrive.

With Love,

Your Author

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“Yes, I am a Writer”

By Lisa Abraham

Barefoot Writer Lisa Abraham
Barefoot Writer Lisa Abraham

For some, writing is a necessity — filling out checks to pay bills, scrawling a greeting at the bottom of a card, making endless lists of groceries or chores. They do not lie awake at night mulling over plot holes. They do not spend the time waiting in lines or in doctors’ offices wondering how they could totally incorporate the receptionist with the great attitude in dealing with the cantankerous old patient into a story. They do not spend hours agonizing whether “she gave him a small smile, then raised the glass to her lips” sounds better than “with a small smile, she raised the glass to her lips.”

For some of us, writing is a part of us, a part of our identity. Of what makes us who we are. If someone were to ask me to describe myself in one word, that word would be “writer.” Unfortunately, like so many worthwhile things in life, being a writer is not an easy path to walk, and there are days when I feel like I’m doing it barefoot in winter with the snow up to my knees and I’m walking uphill all the way.

For a writer to exist in a world that treats writing as something non-essential (after all, no one died from not writing; at least, not that I’ve heard of), it becomes extremely hard to carve out the time to write. There are times when I feel as though I’m cheating (no, no, honey, I wasn’t spending time writing, honest. I was folding laundry) or that it is something I have to hide like a bad habit.

Participating in NaNo, however, changes all of that. NaNo gives me permission to take the time to write when I would otherwise say, “Well, if not today, then maybe tomorrow … ” With daily deadlines to meet (and who doesn’t love a good deadline?), my writing will take on the aspect of being An Important Work and not just be my “cute, little scribblings” and finally, finally, I will be able to sit without the guilt and lose myself in the story that weaves itself around me, for an hour or two, every day, for one month.

Writing for NaNo is the magic wand, the flying carpet, the sprinkle of fairy dust that lifts me out of my workaday world and, like a fairy godmother’s spell, I will be living the life of a real writer. The only difference is that at the stroke of midnight on November 30, I may not have a glass slipper, but I will have a completed novel.

For one month, NaNo will let me be who I really am. And at the end, I can proudly say, “Yes, I am a writer and here is my novel to prove it.”

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50,000 Words to Break a Curse

By Katy Schulz

Barefoot Writer Katy Schulz
Barefoot Writer Katy Schulz

Curses are such nasty little buggers to break. And having my personality can be a bit of a curse.

I am the perennial Project Starter. Not so much a Project Finisher. Ironically, I’m quite good at finishing projects at my day job, but without the looming accountability and expectations from Higher-Ups, I flounder.

I know, I know. This is a common problem. I am not alone. My fellow Incompleters and I make up a hefty portion of the general population. But that’s little comfort. It’s like when someone says, “If it makes you feel better, I (insert empathetic circumstance here).” Misery does not necessarily love company.

So, what to do about it?

Several years ago, I participated in NaNoWriMo for a novel I’d been pondering. It was fantastic! Exhausting, exhilarating, effective … I completed 50,000 words and, while it wasn’t the entirety of my novel, I had great momentum and continued writing regularly, plugging away at that first draft.

350 pages in, I got stuck in the mud swamp that is the “murky middle,” where I was just writing filler without substance. And then, true to my curse, even the filler writing stopped and the novel’s been stuck ever since.

Rather than methodically trying to unstick myself and backtrack, I’ve just been wallowing in the muck, having embarrassing moment after embarrassing moment where people ask me how my novel is coming along and I come up with lame excuses. I’m that person who has been “writing a novel” for ages. How cute.

Recently though, I read a new book on novel writing and had an epiphany. My problem was simply that I hadn’t put any plot points in place to guide me along the way. I had been hoping my creativity would guide me through. What really happened was my creativity helped me right into a book without a solid premise. No wonder I couldn’t complete it! It was like trying to finish a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. “If I just push. hard. enough. I swear this piece goes here!”

It doesn’t.

Now that I’ve uncovered my initial error, it’s finally time to become a Project Finisher. I’m currently working through the plot points of my novel and shoring up my premise. I still have to get all the pieces in place correctly, but at least now I’ll have a map.

NaNoWriMo this time around means more than just 50,000 words. It means coming full circle. It wouldn’t be right to simply finish my novel on my own. NaNoWriMo is as much a part of this novel as any page I’ve written. Both it and I deserve to finish this story together. Not just the novel, but the Curse of the Project Starter. (I’m confident both will have a happy ending … )  

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