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From the Blog: How a Young Writer Published Her Story


While NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program encourages kids and teens ages 18 and under to write their own novels, other nonprofits like The Telling Room help publish them. Today, young author Devin Gifford shares her story of writing and publishing her NaNoWriMo novel.

As NaNoWriMo fades into the distance, I want to share my story with my fellow young writers who have participated in the challenge of writing as many words as you can in a single month. Whether that number was 1,000 or 50,000, consistently finding time to put the metaphorical pen to the page is an achievement all in itself.

My writing and I have a somewhat inconsistent, love-hate relationship, as I think many writers would say. But throughout this tumultuous relationship, NaNoWriMo has helped me return to writing time and time again. I wrote and self-published my first two books through the junior program, the first when I was in third grade and the other in fifth grade. (Both are available on Amazon, though I’ll admit they are not necessarily my best work.) In fifth grade, I began drafting the jumbled mess of a science fiction story that would eventually become The Unraveling

In November of that year, I participated in NaNoWriMo and set my word count goal for 25,000, half of the true NaNoWriMo word count. I did meet that goal for November, but I set my unfinished draft aside afterwards and abandoned it during sixth grade. I did not participate in NaNoWriMo when November rolled around. In seventh grade, I made my triumphant return. I read over my year-old writing and cringed repeatedly, yet I still decided that the draft was worth finishing. November came, and I met another ambitious word count goal and completed the draft by December. NaNoWriMo was the tool that helped me meet my writing goals and inspired me to finish my story. 

Unfortunately, I read my draft over and essentially decided that it was a dumpster fire. It was a mix of my fifth and seventh grade writing: two different halves of the same story. Honestly, much of the plot didn’t make any sense, but the basic idea was there. The monsters in the fog, the post-apocalyptic setting, some of my characters. It held the essence of what would become my first full-length published novel. I didn’t see that at the time, so I hid it away for all of eighth grade. I missed another NaNoWriMo season. 

In the summer before freshman year, I heard about the Young Emerging Authors program at the Telling Room in Portland, Maine. I was already rewriting my first draft and attempting to revive my story, and my mom encouraged me to submit some of my rewriting to the program. I expected absolutely nothing to come of my submission. In my mind, my writing was for nobody but me, and nobody else would consider it to be any good. To my complete shock and horror, I was accepted to the program that year, alongside three other high school authors. 

The program is designed to support four young authors as they publish their novels in a single year. I had only ten pages of my second draft when I submitted, so for me, the process began with drafting. And drafting. And drafting. That November, I once again turned to NaNoWriMo. For the first time, I committed to completing the full NaNoWriMo challenge: 50,000 words in one month. And somehow, after those thirty days were up, I had done it. Those words, that I wrote hurriedly at midnight or in the earliest hours of the morning, whenever I could find the time, ended up producing some of my favorite scenes in my published novel. I am incredibly proud of myself for sticking to the challenge and emerging victorious, not to mention the progress that I was able to make on my draft in a single month. 

I ended up completing my draft sometime in January, and then came revisions. The Young Emerging Authors program provides each fellow with their own mentor, an experienced published author, to guide them through the revision process. My mentor and I sorted through the good and the bad of my draft and figured out what the actual plot of my book was supposed to be. It was one of the most stressful and rewarding parts of the program. Afterwards, a second reader read my story to point out what still didn’t make sense, and my copy editor made tons of little edits. By spring, my manuscript was nearly finalized. After I’d finished agonizing over a title,  I taught myself to use Photoshop in a single night and helped to design my own cover.

Summer came, and we printed proofs of our novels. We were able to physically hold the result of our year-long struggle, and it was all worth it. The book launch was unfortunately virtual, but it was still a celebration of all that we had accomplished in such a short time. I left the program with a shiny new novel, lasting friends, and a sense of confidence in myself and my writing that I never had before. 

Young writers tend to lack confidence in their writing, as I certainly did and sometimes still do. It seems daunting to share such a personal piece of yourself with someone else, and the fear of criticism is often enough to make you hide your writing away. So I want to leave you with this: don’t hide. Share your voice and your writing with the world. Be open and accepting to the feedback you receive. You’ll find that it will only make you a better storyteller. Above all, don’t stop writing. Even if you stray from the path, as I have and likely will again, find your way back. Keep telling your story. It will be worth it.

Best of luck,

The Telling Room is a Maine-based literary arts education nonprofit whose mission is to empower youth through writing and share their voices with the world. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, its ten different writing and publishing programs seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for student writing. Young Emerging Authors is a free, year-long afterschool writing and publishing program in which four Maine writers in grades 8 through 12 are selected to write, revise, and publish their own books in an intensive writing group alongside seasoned mentors. You can buy Devin’s book, The Unraveling, at The Telling Room’s online store.

Devin Gifford lives in North Yarmouth, Maine, and attends Greely High School. She has two dogs and an ornery cat. She spends most of her time writing and reading, as well as brainstorming for a sequel to her most recent novel. She’s been an inconsistent participant in National Novel Writing Month since her very first writing endeavor in third grade. In her free time, she likes making art and making up stories. 

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