November 1 is the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a project that challenges aspiring authors to create a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. The idea behind the event is to encourage writers of all ages, provide a community, and keep writers motivated.
As in previous years, librarians are a pivotal part of the project in 2014. “Libraries are incredible places for making, experimentation, and community gathering,” Chris Angotti, director of programs at the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month organization, told SLJ. “I’m so glad [NaNoWriMo] gets to play a part in their programming.” Public and school librarians all over the country plan to lend their support to young scribes, from structuring programs that involve professional authors to keeping snacks on-hand for writers working round the clock. Information on how to participate, and tips to keep motivated, are on the NaNoWriMo site.
Librarians’ approaches to NaNoWriMo range widely. Some, especially those working with younger students, provide very structured programs, while others take a more hands-off approach. Stephanie Rous, the media coordinator at West Clayton Elementary School in Clayton, NC, works with kindergarteners through fifth graders. She scales down the project for her students. Though participants are meant to write an entire novel, from start to finish, within the month of November, Rous typically starts her students out with what she calls “NaNoPlaMo,” or a time period where they plot out characters, setting, and plot twists ahead of time. Tweaking the concept further, she chooses not to set the word count at the recommended 50,000. Instead, she gives students individual goals, depending on their writing abilities.
Ashley Festeroff, the librarian at Indian Creek Upper School in Crownsville, MD, offers her teen NaNoWriMo writers plenty of encouragement. However, because the library is on a flexible schedule, she doesn’t always get to see them regularly. Festeroff plans afterschool meetings, and though she can’t always guarantee one-on-one time for every individual student, she makes sure her teens have an inviting space for writing.
“The kids get together, eat snacks, have contests to see who can write the most words in that hour, and talk about their characters or just chat,” she says. “Overall, the students are self-sufficient and just enjoy the time to hang out and work on their novels together.”
Rebecca Zwetow, librarian at Windsor High School in Imperial, MO, takes a hands-off approach with her high schoolers. She passes out NaNoWriMo guidelines to students and gives participants special library passes, and then leaves the students to their writing. “Frequently, the most successful kids work on their own, headphones in their ears,” she says. “[They often] find more support from the online community than within our school.”
Over the years, her students have truly taken the opportunity and run with it: this year, a senior who has been participating in NaNoWriMo since his sophomore year has organized a writing class for other students. “To the students who participate, it is life changing,” Zwetow said. “Two of our authors have gone on to self-publish their novels, and we have added their titles to our collection.”
Well aware that this is a daunting endeavor for many, librarians are big on rewarding participants’ hard work and offering support when the going gets tough. Rous lets her students post stickers on the library’s NaNoWriMo poster as they hit different milestones. She also keeps crates of stuffed animals handy (all of which are tagged with names and fun facts) to motivate reluctant writers seeking story ideas.
Jennifer Rummel, YA librarian at Otis Library in Norwich, CT, sweetens the deal even further, providing a bucket of chocolate chip cookies for the patrons who attend the library’s write-in, an entire night solely devoted to writing.
These activities also give aspiring authors a chance to share issues and vent. The write-ins at Otis Library let participants take breaks to discuss their work. “It’s great to hear what other people are writing about, and the ideas vary greatly throughout the room,” says Rummel. “NaNoWriMo works because of encouragement from other writers and a community who understands [it].”
Amanda L. Goodman, user experience librarian at Darien (CT) Library, says that her patrons will have a similar opportunity at one of the November write-ins. “Writers will get two minutes to describe a problem they’re having, and then the [other participating writers have] three minutes to respond,” she says.
NaNoWriMo also gives participants the chance for face time with experts in the field: professional authors, many of whom visit libraries and dole out hard-won advice. AnnMarie Martin, whose horror novel The Hollow (Black Bed Sheet Bks.) published this July, will run a NaNoWriMo event on November 13 at the Yonkers (NY) Riverfront Library, where participants will be asked to write for 10 to 15 minutes. She will give feedback to patrons, honing in on thoughts or phrases that show promise.
Last year, Rummel invited mystery writer Rosemary Harris (Pushing Up Daisies), who gave participants some tips and suggestions and emphasized the importance for writers of delving into mind-sets of their characters.
The enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo is strong—and shows no signs of dwindling. Festeroff has been running the program at her school for the past five years. Though her students have packed schedules, there are always those willing to make the time for NaNoWriMo, she says. “I was astounded when we had nearly 30 kids sign up that first year. In a school of 200 students, it really did blow my mind,” she says. “That so many of them would sign up to write more than 1,000 words a day just shows how many kids are looking for a creative outlet in their lives.”