February 16, 2018

NaNoWriMo at Your Library | Programs That Pop

One popular program at the Corvallis–Benton County Public Library (C-BCPL) last year was our National Novel Writing Month (­NaNoWriMo) series of events, which offered a fun and creative challenge for community members: to write a novel in 30 days. The program was so popular that the library published a collection of writings from many of the participants.

NaNoWriMo (na-noh-rhy-moh) is an annual creative writing challenge. Participants have 30 days in November to write 50,000 words. Created in 1999 with 21 participants in San Francisco, it has grown to more than 696,321 entrants. People worldwide sign up, track their progress, and connect on the NaNoWriMo website.


Coordinating a NaNoWriMo program was a perfect fit for our library as it was a way to support local writers and publishing. It helped to facilitate community connections and presented an opportunity to encourage participatory learning and creating. Writing workshops and programs at our library are traditionally popular, so joining forces with NaNoWriMo was a no-brainer!

Connecting with our NaNoWriMo municipal representative (MR) was a key factor in our program’s success. Libraries can find their local MRs on the NaNoWriMo website. Our MR was Elizabeth Halvorsen. Her excitement and knowledge about NaNoWriMo were contagious, and her ability to coach and encourage local writers through obstacles such as writer’s block, plot questions, and character creations helped sustain the program.

Plotting a success

Elizabeth helped lead a Come Write In (CWI) program at C-BCPL. We reserved our large meeting room for four hours every Saturday during November to give writers a supportive, comfortable, and engaging place to meet and work. We modeled the room setup on the Night of Writing Dangerously, making coffee, tea, and sugary snacks available and supplying plenty of outlets and extension cords for laptops. We also stocked the room with writing materials and resources from our collection.

In addition to the CWI program, we coordinated with Elizabeth a pre-NaNoWriMo event, a Plot Planning Party (PPP) in October. Local writers met one another, learned about ­NaNoWriMo, and shared tips on starting their novel and sustaining ­momentum.

We anticipated eight to ten people would attend these events, but 35 turned up at the PPP, and at least 20 writers stopped in each Saturday for the weekly CWI program. We marketed the events via flyers, the library’s social media accounts, a press release, and displays featuring published novels written during NaNoWriMo. We also created an account on the NaNoWriMo website and promoted our events within the site’s forums and on our region’s page.

Publishing the results

Encouraged by the attendance and dedication of our local writers, we decided to showcase writing completed during November. Ideas ranged from placing passages on display in the library to profiling writers on our website, but we decided publishing a book would be the most exciting result.

We advertised during the CWI sessions that the library would publish and circulate a book of excerpts from writing completed during ­NaNoWriMo. Elizabeth helped to promote it during NaNoWriMo events outside of the library as well as on the group’s forums. Area writers were invited to submit five to 20 pages (about 5,000 words) by December 15. The product from NaNoWriMo is intended to be a rough draft rather than a final manuscript, so the deadline allowed time for participants to choose and edit their excerpts.

Guidelines for submissions included a standard font and double-space requirement. Authors were asked to include a brief biography. We noted that the library reserved the right not to publish any submission and that copyright would be retained by the author.

Eight submissions were received, providing plenty of content for a small book. We used Lulu.com to publish, as the interface is easy to use and produces a high-quality product. Using Walt Crawford’s The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing as a guide, we did some copy­editing and copyfitting as well as formatting for consistency across the book. Grammar and punctuation were not corrected except in the rare case of an obvious error. At 101 pages, our final publication was titled National Novel Writing Month 2013: A Collection of Excerpts from Writers in Corvallis, Oregon.

We could not have foreseen the enthusiasm and bonding that occurred between writers and library staff. Many authors shared their excitement: “I’m so excited to see my name on the cover of a book!,” said one. We look forward to continuing NaNoWriMo events this month and publishing a second anthology.

Lindy Brown and Bonnie Brzozowski are Reference Librarians, Corvallis–Benton County Public Library, OR

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.