What does the number 1,667 mean to you? Well, if you’re a writer participating in National Novel Writing Month, that figure represents the amount of words you are going to try to write each day throughout November.

Writers who stick to that very specific word count, wind up with a 50,000-word novel at the end of the month. That, at least, is the basic concept of what has come to be known as NaNoWriMo—shorthand for National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo is a yearly, internet-based event run by a non-profit of the same name. The website nanowrimo.org offers forums, pep talks by authors, and other resources to help writers complete a novel-length work in thirty days.

Locally, writers’ groups, libraries and book stores celebrate NaNoWriMo in a variety of ways. While some arrange for speakers and workshops, many provide prospective novelists with something even more valuable—a dedicated space and time to write, along with opportunities to meet other writers.

Liz Leiby, of Harleysville, is the NaNoWriMo municipal liaison for Montgomery County. It’s a volunteer position that she likens to being a cheerleader for participants in the region. She answers questions in online forums, and promotes in-person events as well.

This is Leiby’s first year as a liaison but her third year participating in NaNoWriMo.

“To the core of my being, I think literally anyone can write 50,000 words in 30 days. I want to help people see that their story is worth writing,” she said of her decision to become a volunteer liaison.

One way she encourages writers is by helping organize and publicize write-ins.

Writing in Community

On day two of NaNoWriMo, in a hushed, cozy space known as the Creative Light Factory, eight writers sat sprawled on couches, tucked into easy chairs and hunched over laptops and notebooks. They had gathered together for a write-in—that is, a time to work on their individual novels in the company of other writers.

Located in the Spring City Mill Studios, on Bridge Street in Spring City, Creative Light Factory is a non-profit, year-round hub for writers, offering spaces to work, as well as classes, coaching, workshops and more.

“November is our favorite month of the year,” said Katy Comber, who, along with Patty Kline-Capaldo, co-founded Creative Light Factory in 2018.

Kline-Capaldo was inspired to establish a writer’s hub after participating in a NaNoWriMo write-in at a book store several years ago.

“That’s when I first started meeting other writers, and I realized I didn’t have to sit home alone, struggling,” she said.

The 12-hour write-in on November 2 was Creative Light Factory’s kick-off event for NaNoWriMo. They will conclude the month with an 18-hour cram session on November 30.

What’s the point of a write-in?

“You are sharing the space with people who have a common goal, and that makes writing a lot less lonely,” Comber explained. “I am an advocate of writing in a community. You have a dedicated space and time, and that adds gravity to your commitment.”

Counting Words

While the basic rules of NaNoWriMo call for participants to begin and end a novel in November, many aspiring novelists don’t follow those guidelines. Instead, they use the month to increase the word count on an existing novel in progress, or just increase the amount they write each day.

Aiming toward greater word counts is important for two reasons, said Evan Harbaugh, head of the Phoenix Fiction Writers, which has been meeting twice monthly at the Phoenixville Library for 10 years.

“The higher word count increases raw productivity and therefore, helps writers to complete and develop works,” Harbaugh explained. “And also, possibly more importantly, it increases a person's commitment level to their writing.”

Harbaugh said writers have a tendency to “de-prioritize” their craft, giving it a backseat to other pressing demands.

“NaNoWriMo is a way for struggling writers to commit to a goal and work to achieve it. If someone can't seem to meet goals they set for themselves, often sharing the goal with other writers creates accountability, and usually, increases that writer's chance of meeting that goal,” explained Harbaugh.

What’s more, it gets people into a routine of writing every day.

“I write more in the month of November than I do any other time of the year,” said Rose DeLone, one of the writers gathered at the Creative Light Factory. Only four hours into the write-in, she had completed over 500 words.

The Finish Line

When NaNoWriMo was first launched in 1999, only 21 writers participated, according to information on nanowrimo.org. By 2017, 306,230 novelist hopefuls had joined in.

One of those was Sarah Danforth, manager of the Towne Book Center in Collegeville. In fact, Danforth has participated every year for the past 12 years. In that time, she’s finished about four novels. And while she hasn’t felt any of her manuscripts were ready for publication, she finds it gratifying whenever she completes a work.

“I love writing, but I don’t always finish what I write,” she confessed. NaNoWriMo “gives me outside motivation to finish. That’s probably what I like best about it.”

The Towne Book Center hosts write-ins every Sunday in November from 2-4 p.m., with a designated area where all are welcome to sit and write. Last year, about seven people participated regularly, including Danforth.

“It was very fun, and a little stressful,” Danforth said, adding that she and a friend would sometimes celebrate reaching their word count with a glass of wine at the book store’s wine bar.

Like Danforth, writer Dani Lofgren of Hatboro said she’s participated in NaNoWriMo for several years, because she loves writing in a community.

“But I never won,” she admitted. Winning, she explained, is finishing the entire 50,000 words.

Polishing it Up

“I know some writers who write a novel-length work in November as part of NaNoWriMo, and then they spend the next 11 months revising that novel,” said Harbaugh, of Phoenix Fiction Writers.

NaNoWriMo is all about productivity. It’s about getting the words on paper and developing the foundation of a novel. But once the fevered push to pound out 50,000 words is over, the task of re-writing begins.

“There’s a lot of polishing involved. There’s a ton of editing afterwards,” said Comber.

Writing groups often meet year-round to read each other’s works and offer criticism and ideas for improving a first draft. And both the Towne Book Center and Creative Light Factory have connections to editors who can offer advice to writers who hope to get their work published.

Over the years, hundreds of books have been published that were written during NaNoWriMo. But Comber said the greatest benefit of NaNoWriMo may not be producing a published novel.

“It’s the discipline and routine of writing every day,” she said.

On nanowrimo.org, writers can find tips for getting their work published, but not all writers want to pursue publication.

“For some people, it’s just a creative outlet,” explained Leiby.

NaNoWriMo for Non-Writers

Even non-writers can celebrate NaNoWriMo. The Chester County Library System observes the month with programming that focuses on writing and author events.

Those include a Southern Chester County Writers’ Conference on November 16, at the Oxford Public Library; an author talk on November 18 by Kevin Farris, a journalist and author of “Vets & Pets;” and a presentation on “Storytelling for Influence,” by writer and director Wade Walton.

For a full list of Chester County library events, visit https://chescolibraries.org/

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