By Josette Keelor
They spent a good part of November carving out the first 50,000 words of their novels, but for area writers, the fun has only begun.
In previous years, ending National Novel Writing Month on Nov. 30 has been bittersweet, with some writers taking their novels to the next level through edits, and others casting aside the hastily-thrown-together manuscript and never writing another word again until the following November.
But now, writers of the valley have an online community in which to celebrate their love of creative writing year-round. The Shenandoah Valley Writers launched its Facebook page on Wednesday night and by the following day at noon already had 25 members.
Traditionally, the month of November will find writers at local coffee shops and library conference rooms at planned write-ins, where they can meet together with laptops and write together. The community keeps the creativity flowing long after the coffee has stopped, but the lack of community throughout the other 11 months of the year stalls motivation for many area writers.
That's where NaNoWriMo municipal liaisons Susan Warren Utley of Front Royal and Rebekah Postupak of Edinburg come in.
"Something about this year really clicked," Postupak said. "Neither of us has ever expected this degree of support and just energy online."
For the first time, last month, the two writers started offering online write-ins, usually for late at night or early in the morning when most people would find it difficult to meet in person. Then something unexpected happened: Writers on the Facebook page began setting up spontaneous write-ins, posting status updates at all hours asking who was around and felt like writing.
"I think just having all that freedom helped me," Meghann McCoy, of Shenandoah, said at a Thank God It's Over Party at Joe's Steakhouse in Front Royal last Saturday.
"I've never written anything so fast," said fellow writer Beth Peterson, of West Virginia.
"I hit 50,000 on, like, Nov. 17," said Maggie Duncan, of Staunton, who completed November with 63,000 words. "The first draft is complete."
That need for community helped more writers than ever before from the valley to complete their novels -- 39 out of 152 active participants signed up at www.nanowrimo.org -- but it also caused another surprise when even after November ended, valley writers continued to loiter on the Shenandoah and Winchester WriMos page.
They didn't want November to end, and despite eagerly attending one or both of the TGIO parties in Winchester and Front Royal last Saturday, "over" is not what they wanted at all.
When they announced the new writing club on Wednesday night, "It felt like the next iPod," Postupak said. "You just felt everybody flooding in."
Postupak said she could not remember when it was that she and Utley decided to form a year-round online writing community.
"I think it was so organic," she said. "I think it just grew out of it."
"We already had the community," she said. "In some sense, it was like the NaNoWriMo group was ... the prologue."
Shenandoah Valley Writers is a closed group for now, but Postupak called the launch "phase one" and said it could change later. For now, though, those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for an invite.
The entire effort, at the moment, is for the benefit of the group that bonded during NaNoWriMo, Postupak said, "to give us a home to keep writing."
It's for "the community born out of NaNo," she said.
The group offers three main recurring online events from 9 to 11 p.m., with Manic Mondays using word sprints to inspire fast-paced creativity, "Shut Up & Write!" Wednesdays promoting a quiet writing space with minimal interruptions, and Flash! Fridays, which offers a contest with a writing prompt over a 12-hour window.
Now that they've set up the group, what Postupak and Utley want is for members to take control of how the club progresses.
"I think the key is for everyone to take ownership," Postupak said. "We are really hoping that that's what's going to give it longevity."
"I think it's because it's a great community," she said. "It's the writers that are going to make it great."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com