If I Hold It, Will They Come?


I live in a small town of about 9500 people, and my day job is as Children’s Librarian at our Public Library. Recently, our Head of Library Services retired and we gained a new HOLS, one with exciting ideas and a desire for new programming. While I run a lot of children’s programs, I’d never done any adult programming, so I headed to her with trepidation, wondering if she might be interested in our library running Camp NaNoWriMo in April. She seemed confident in my abilities to throw it together, and so Camp NaNo at the library was born.


After a mad scramble to advertise in local papers, newsletters, in the library and even a crazy (scary) stint on local radio, I made banners, signs and put together handouts explaining what Camp NaNoWriMo was all about. Then, all I had to do was wait. Would anyone come to the Camp Kick-Off? Would my first attempt at adult programming fizzle into a puff of smoke? Would I have to eat all the snacks I purchased for the Kick-Off?

On the night of the event, I watched the room fill up with people. I was excited, nervous, and worried I didn’t have enough snacks (okay, so I’d eaten some out of sheer worry). I’d practiced my big “reveal”, the speech I prepped to give everyone some confidence in me as the person running this program. And after delivering it in a wobbly voice, I realized these seven people sitting in front of me weren’t laughing, and instead, actually seemed excited!

After a quick go-around, I discovered none of these people had ever written a book. They were all at various stages in their lives-----two teenagers still going to school, a stay-at-home dad, a gentleman in his 70’s, a semi-retired teacher, a 30-something woman who had just recently moved back home and was looking to try something new, and a woman in the middle of moving/changing jobs/finding herself. Each one had their own reasons for wanting to try this, and everyone was writing something completely different, from cyber-punk-erotica (um, okay), to memoirs, to YA historicals. We were the strangest group you could ever imagine. But somehow, it was destined to work.


We picked up about five more people after the initial Kick-Off, which was even more exciting. Most of our campers wrote at home, but one man decided to make it symbolic----he was the MOST competitive of the group----and wrote his first words, and his last words at the library. I sent out emails every single morning (I joked that I probably wrote 50,000 words in emails alone in April, but it was probably true), giving encouragement and ideas to keep everyone writing. And we met once per week to discuss problems or ideas. This group was coming together like I never expected. We even had a 3-hour write in at the library one Sunday afternoon, with word sprints and prizes! So much fun!


I heard from everyone on a regular basis through email. Some needed extra support and some just wanted to thank me for a tip that had helped them. It was great! On the last day of Camp NaNo, I knew many of our writers were close to hitting the 50,000 word mark (most of them made that their goal, even though the Camp version is less strict about it). As the emails poured in the following morning with “final” word counts, I was so proud of these people, many I’d only met 30 days before. We had twelve writers in our group, twelve people from a small out-of-the-way Canadian town, who could now call themselves writers. What an accomplishment!


We had a celebration lunch about a week after the end, getting together to congratulate each other and talk about future workshops, and where they wanted to go with this group. As it turns out, they’ve made some really great connections, and found trust in each other. None of them write in the same genre, but they’ve all been open to listening to problems and suggesting plot or character ideas. It’s been amazing. They thanked me for being such a support and for guiding them through the process. But honestly, I got just as much out of this experience as they did….maybe more. What an exciting thing to be able to share some of my “experience” with those just starting! And to see them start and finish something as big as a book, is incredible. I’m so proud of these people!


We just held our first revision workshop, and our writers read the first page of their books to the group. It was AMAZING! They were all pretty nervous to share, but the feedback each one gave and received was incredible. I know everyone left with ideas and goals for making their first novels the best they can be. I know I’m looking forward to our next meeting, my wonky little writing group of people I now consider to be friends. They came. They wrote. They are writers!

Now I can’t wait to start my Young Writer's Program this summer!