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Maria Maxham has published nine novels and is a popular author in the romance genre, known by her pen name Maria Monroe. But it wasn’t until the Forest Park resident discovered National Novel Writing Month in November that she said she gained the confidence to finish her first novel. 

“People feel really daunted and think they could never write a thick book,” said Maxham. “But if you just sit down and do it you can get it done. It is just putting down one word after the next.” 

Known commonly as “NaNoWriMo,” the thousands who participate in the event aim to finish a novel in 30 days. NaNoWriMo is a nonprofit that started in 2006 to provide a community and accountability system for those interested in undertaking the challenge of writing a full novel in the month of November. More than anything, according to Maxham, NaNoWriMo exists to show people that if they are interested in writing a novel, they can do it. The philosophy of NaNoWriMo is that if you sit down and write everyday, you can write a novel, no matter your background or experience as a writer. Maxham’s life experience and creative process reflects that sentiment. 

Maxham originally pursued a career path in accounting before she realized that her true passion was in words rather than numbers. She marked her transition to a writing life by receiving a Master of Fine Arts from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

“A writer friend of mine dared me to write a romance novel, and once I started writing [in the genre], I fell in love,” she explained.

While in the process of writing a book, Maxham now sits down every day and writes a minimum of 2,000 words with no regard to the quality of the writing. What matters for Maxham is showing up at the page and getting words down on paper. 

“If I don’t, I lose momentum and focus,” she said, adding: “Don’t be afraid to write badly, no novelists write perfect first drafts. Writing a bad first draft is better than not writing anything at all. You have to start somewhere.”

Besides getting writers in the habit of writing everyday, what makes NaNoWriMo so effective is the organization’s comprehensive website, Maxham said. NaNoWriMo.org includes discussion boards, support groups, and places to go for advice, all resources that Maxham found to be invaluable her first time undertaking the challenge. “All you have to do is sign up on the website to get started,” she said. “Once signed up, you go through a process of announcing the name of your novel, uploading a daily word count, and talking with other writers.”

While a majority of NaNoWriMo community interactions happen virtually, there are also physical locations where writers can meet to discuss their work, get help, and write together. 

The Forest Park Public library is one such location. Maxham will be serving as a resource at the library all month for anyone seeking NaNoWriMo-related assistance. While attending a NaNoWriMo physical location is not required, Maxham finds it to be a great way to stay on track. The library has sign-up sheets for writers and NaNo swag items available for the taking. Visit the library every Thursday in November from 6:30 to 8p.m. There you can find Maxham and other local writers working together to accomplish their shared goal.

“If someone is even considering trying NaNoWriMo, they should just go for it,” she said.