News for Pennsyslvania Libraries

Ashley Flynn

Ashley Flynn

by Ashley Flynn
Library Director at Highland Community Library
Currently Reading: The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Written communication is an incredibly important aspect of human interaction, even in this increasingly modern and digital world. This critical element of basic literacy pairs perfectly with libraries, no matter what size or type. Offering a writing workshop, or even just opening up a portion of your space for writers, can celebrate the importance of written communication in your community.

November is National Novel Writing Month, known affectionately as NaNoWriMo by participants, and marks an excellent opportunity to consider offering opportunities for writers in your area. NaNoWriMo is described as “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing,” by Participants are encouraged to start writing on November 1 with the goal of completing a novel (50,000 words) by month’s end. Participants can create accounts on the NaNoWriMo website to track their progress and create connections with other participants, who are referred to as WriMos. The threat of the deadline encourages writers to get the words out without spending too much time doubting their work. In the months that follow, participants can finely hone and craft their NaNoWriMo projects into something they may even want to submit for publication.

Becoming a NaNoWriMo partner is easy through the Come Write In program. Libraries and other locations are encouraged to host Write In events, during which WriMos are invited into a space to work on their novels. You can make the event small and simple or big and intricate. The main goal is to provide an inviting space for participants to bring their laptops, notebooks, or other writing tools and get to work!

This is my third year hosting Write In events at Highland Community Library, and each year I keep it simple. First, visit and identify your library as a write in site. The site will connect you with someone from the NaNoWriMo organization who will help you promote your event specifically to program participants in your area. Next, make your space (however big or small it may be) inviting to WriMos. This could be as easy as reserving a table for participants and pulling an extension cord over to provide power for those with laptops or electronic devices. Free WiFi is a great feature to mention when promoting your event, and light refreshments are always well received. I like to provide a mix of sweet and salty (like chips and cookies) since that always seems to jump-start my own creative process!

The best part of about hosting a write in event is that it takes very little staff time to be a success. Most WriMos are just seeking a space outside of their home to work on their word count, so you don’t have to worry about entertaining them. Make the space inviting and they’ll come! If you want the program to feel less passive, provide a basket of writing prompts and encourage participants to take one when they get stuck.You could also have each WriMo make a name tag including some brief information about their current project to help familiarize the group.

Participation in NaNoWriMo as a Write In Site is an easy way to build a writing culture in your library. If you have WriMos who feel comfortable in your space, they’ll want to come back and write there again. They may even be interested in forming a writers’ group to discuss their current projects, or even workshop each other’s pieces. At the very least, you may want to set aside a little time each month to devote to a Writers’ Corner, during which writers will be specifically welcome to write in the company of others.

Writing Clubs
Not into NaNoWriMo? There are still other ways to welcome writers and promote basic literacy in your library! I host a Teen Writing Club in my library, which meets twice a month. The format could easily be adapted to suit other age groups. I provide participants with journals (very cheap composition books) and lead them through a series of prompts and activities each session. We typically begin with a quick writing warm-up exercise before moving on to longer prompts and activities.

My favorite activity was a sensory experiment designed to develop their descriptive writing. Participants were asked to close their eyes and then were handed a mystery item that could be touched, smelled, heard, and even tasted. The teens had to write about the mystery object in as much detail as possible before being allowed to open their eyes and see the item. I checked for food allergies beforehand and picked edible items not likely to cause a reaction (pieces of pomegranate, mango, and avocado).

Another element of our writing club is constructive criticism. I always encourage participants to bring a 1-2 page piece, which I photocopy for the whole group to workshop together. Everyone must write down three things they like about the piece and one suggestion for improving it. In particular, we have begun developing specific pieces for submission to teen writing contests and publications. It’s very rewarding to see their progress and enthusiasm!

PA Forward Logo of Five LiteraciesHosting a Write In Event in conjunction with NaNoWriMo or beginning a writing club for any age can celebrate the importance of basic literacy in any library. Writing events can operate well with almost no money required for supplies, and very little time is necessary to plan a passive write in program. Simply extending the invitation to writers may be all you need to do to develop something special in your facility.

For more information about National Novel Writing Month, visit For more about the writing programs at Highland Community Library, contact me at