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THE B-LIST: They say every person has a book in them ...

For the last decade or so I've counted down the days to November.

Not because I'm a fiend for turkey and stuffing, but because November is National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo.

Launched in 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo has become a highly-anticipated yearly challenge for writers of all stripes. The goal is simple: from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30 write 50,000 words of a new manuscript, updating your word counts and verifying your total at the official website (

Anyone can sign up (it's completely free) and any genre is acceptable.

Need a sense of community or external encouragement to reach your goal? Most cities have scheduled meet-ups at cafes or libraries throughout the month, and there are regular pep talks from folks like Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern, delivered directly to participants' email inboxes.

Those who win earn exciting goodies, like discounts on writing programs and a free printed copy of their finished book. Several best-selling novels have been written thanks to NaNoWriMo, including "Water for Elephants," "The Night Circus," "Fangirl" and "Cinder."

NaNoWriMo is a great motivator for those of us who have trouble being productive; the speedy pace forces you to finish a first draft without pausing to edit. Thanks to the yearly challenge, I've finished three novels myself (two of which have been published — as a bit of blatant self-promotion, feel free to check them out at

Even though NaNoWriMo began yesterday, it's not too late to sign up — and here are some helpful books to get you motivated:

5: "Making Shapely Fiction" by Jerome Stern. This has become a mainstay of several college courses. Concise and helpful, Stern walks you through the basics and beyond to crafting compelling stories and characters. A fantastic reference guide.

4: "On Writing" by Stephen King. Part memoir, part advice book, "On Writing" is helpful, motivational and a great glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most prolific authors of all time. A must-read for every Uncle Stevie fan.

3: "Breverton's Phantasmagoria: A Compendium of Monsters, Myths and Legends" by Terry Breverton. A beautifully made little volume that covers a wide gamut of true crime, weird science and fantastical folklore. A great idea generator for anyone planning to write a historical, fantasy, mystery, or horror story.

2: "Atlas Obscura" by Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton, Joshua Foer. The popular website now in book form, perfect for any armchair traveler — or writers looking for location inspiration. Packed full of unusual and little-known museums, natural landmarks, noteworthy cities and strange legends.

1: "Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction" by Jeff Vandermeer. Not only is this book beautiful and inspiring, it really gets down to the brass tacks of writing believable, resonant genre stories. Covering everything from languages to geography, villain motivation to three-dimensional heroes, "Wonderbook" is also packed with helpful tips from the biggest names in the industry, like George R.R. Martin and Neil Gaiman.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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