2013 Winner of the NaNoWriMo Polly Prize: What NaNoWriMo Did for Me

by Sylvia Nica, Age 12, USA


Sylvia Nica NaNoWriMo Polly Prize Winner

Sylvia won the 2013 NaNoWriMo Polly Prize with this well-written essay.

Starting NaNoWriMo and the Young Writer’s Program, I’ll admit I had some high hopes. Setting my word count for 50,000 words, I was confident, excited, and really enthusiastic.  Sure I’d come out of the experience a better person—and have a completed novel to add to my repertoire. The thing I didn’t realize, though, was that writing a novel, and sticking with it, was so hard.

I’d had an idea floating in my noggin for a couple years, ever since fourth grade, when, on a perfectly normal Wednesday, an idea literally popped out of nowhere. Sitting in bed, enjoying the warmth of the covers, I had been thinking about how cool it would be to have a time machine. To be truthful, the thing that I was really focused on was what I would pack for the trip, not what I would actually use the machine for, which, in retrospective, was a little strange. Then—light bulb—I thought, well, why not write about it? So I started to write, but to be honest, it was more of an outline. I used it for a school project, having only gotten a fourth of the way through writing the plot, and afterwards conveniently forgot about it.

And then, last month, when I was trying to find ideas for NaNoWriMo, I stumbled back upon the old manuscript, which had been buried underneath a mound of ancient papers. That’s when I realized that the idea wasn’t bad, it was just the writing was a bit spotty. And so I completely threw out my old words, phrases, theme, etc., and started fresh.

The general idea for the new plot was to still use the protagonist I had originally thought of, and of course the time machine, but to have a completely different story structure. The basic summary, now that I’ve finished my book, is this:

Julia is an orphan, genius, and inventor. Using her astounding mathematical ability, she is able to build a time machine. Unfortunately, when Julia travels to the past for the first time, the time machine breaks down, leaving Julia stranded in the 1800’s. Making some pioneer friends, she is able to fix the machine, but an unexpected hitch has Julia wandering through different dimensions and battling a T-Rex until, finally, she is able to make it home again.

What this experience (and of course this novel!) taught me the most is that to finish a book, to really get through it, you have to dedicate your time, and write, write, write. It doesn’t matter if it’s crazy and weird, the first draft is, like it says on the Laura Thomas Communications website, just a lump of clay.

Probably the hardest lesson for me was that I had to learn to be selfish. I found that when I was constantly checking my email and chatting with friends, I wasn’t writing enough. And so I was bold. I ignored the emails, texts, whatever it was at the time, and I literally just dove into the writing. Sure, my friends were a bit annoyed that I’d cut them off, but, as I mentioned earlier, I had to be selfish with my time to succeed.

And so, on the last day of NaNoWriMo, right before I went to bed, I scribbled the last few words, and BAM! I realized I had a finished novel. And guess what? I had written it in thirty days.

I felt, and still feel, proud of myself for completing that book, painful though it was, and getting fifty thousand words in total. Sure, I sometimes forgot to update my word count, but that wasn’t as important. What was important was the writing.

Sometimes, when my ideas were stale, I’d want to just quit. But then I’d take a break, go outside and take a walk, and then come back in, feeling a sense of satisfaction as the words began to flood my page, flowing into an exotic river of creativity.

Just before I started NaNoWriMo, I read about Polly Wants to Be a Writer. My first thought, after reading the summary, was “Wow, I want that book!” And I really, truly did.
Polly Wants to Be a Writer would be for me like a map is for a stranded mountaineer. It would guide me through the twists and turns of the writing process, from starting the fire of the first draft to climbing the craggy cliff of publishing. It would be my guide, showing me the right path to take, and help me truly survive as a writer.

And just like the mountaineer facing the looming threat of a grizzly bear, Polly Wants to Be a Writer would help me face the looming threats and difficulties of writing, and help me live to tell the tale.

I knew in my heart I would make some mistakes in my writing during NaNoWriMo, and sometimes I did, but in the end, I came out as a better writer, and, in all, a better person.


Sylvia Nica is a 12 year old writer from Ohio. Sylvia loves writing, being creative, and enjoys seeing new places. She enjoys math challenges and playing piano and violin.

What Sylvia said about Polly Wants to Be a Writer

I received the book and devoured it.Thank you so much! It helped me in my revision of my novel that I completed for NaNoWriMo, and it empowered me identify the weak scenes in my story. It guided me in fixing the little stuff too. It also helped my writing evolve, even though I’ve had the copy for such a short amount of time!


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