Jessica Smith: Keep calm and write on

Since I could hold a pen in my hand, I loved to write.

I wrote down what happened in my day-to-day life in diaries. I interviewed family members to learn about their lives before I was born. I would take notes when watching Ghostwriter, Mary Kate and Ashley and Murder She Wrote, so I could try to solve the mystery before the detectives. I watched soap operas with my mom and grandma, then imagined and scripted out my own sordid plots for my Barbies to act out. I would ask my teachers for more homework, so I could stay up late writing and fall asleep on my desk (like Zach Morris in Saved by the Bell).

As I got older, I wrote song lyrics and poems, tried my hand at short stories, created character descriptions from dreams, and got really into Harry Potter fanfiction for a while. And even as I enjoyed other hobbies and explored other ways to express my creativity, I’ve found that when I’m writing I can truly escape reality and find myself in new worlds. However, finding the time to write in this busy world can be really difficult, and if you don’t take the time to nourish your writing skills, they start to fade away — if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I’ve found that the only way to have time (to write…or do anything else really) is to make time, to sort out your priorities. Make writing a habit every day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes before you go to bed. A great way to get in the habit of making writing a habit is to participate in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo.

What’s that? I’m so glad you asked. NaNoWriMo is a daunting, but straightforward challenge — to write a novel of 50,000 words in the 30 days that make up November. In order to complete the challenge, you need to write approximately 1,667 words each day. They have a resourceful website that helps you keep track of your goal, provides pep talks from bestselling authors, and even lets you add “writing buddies,” to help encourage you to keep chugging along. But more than that, their website also provides videos on how to prepare your novel, character and plot generators for when you need inspiration, tips for drafting and outlining…even a letter to explain your NaNo challenge to your friends and family.

The NaNoWriMo nonprofit organization also helps create connections with bookstores, community centers and libraries throughout the world. They enlist Municipal Liaisons (MLs), volunteers who organize and run local write-ins and are cheerleaders for writers in their areas. At write-ins you can meet with other like-minded creators to get their opinions, share your ideas, and challenge each other with timed writing sprints.

Excitingly, this year we’ll be hosting a Writer’s Night at Greenwood Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, right in the middle of NaNo. At this event, we’ll be presenting awards for our fall short story writing contest (find out more on our website, as well as providing more information about NaNoWriMo, and we’ll be featuring local author Saundra Mitchell who will talk about the writing craft in a keynote presentation.

So whether you just like to write out random story ideas in the margins of your notebooks, you like poetry, biographies or epic space operas, I hope you’ll challenge yourself to start writing. Maybe you’re not ready for 50,000 words. That’s fine. Start with 1,000. Just get in the habit of writing each day, and maybe you can be a bestselling author, too.

Jessica Smith is a teen librarian at Greenwood Public Library. GPL staff members share in writing this bi-monthly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to