NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month and it is exactly what it seems. Your goal, should you choose to accept it, is to begin a novel on November 1 and finish it by November 30 at midnight. Yes, really. And, it’s surprisingly possible. So possible, in fact, that there is a Young Writers Program for students as young as elementary school age. While adults have an assigned goal of at least 50,000 words by the end of the month/ novel, students are encouraged to set reasonable, achievable goals for themselves.
Along the way, students can log their progress and receive excellent advice and challenges, including the Dare Machine, which currently reads, “Have your hero and your villain trade lives for a day.” It’s a great exercise to use as a starting prompt or to be freed from writer’s block.
I’ve asked former middle school teacher and assiduous writer Kati Gardner for her insights on NaNoWriMo as a teacher and participant.
How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo? And what type of novels do you like to write?
This is my third time participating in NaNoWriMo in the last 5 years. I can't write when I'm pregnant and two Novembers I was pregnant (and still in the first trimester) so my brain didn't work. I write Young Adult novels, or books that the central character is a teenager. My protagonists are typically in high school. I love this time in a person’s life because everything is possible. You're in the cusp of being an adult but have no real responsibilities (hopefully). I also love, love, love writing about first loves. Everything is so important and so major during this time. It's all big and grand and sweeping.
Were you successful in completing a novel?
I've completed two manuscripts, but I never "finish" during NaNo. I am verbose and have to do a lot of editing afterwards. It usually takes me a year or more to get a manuscript to a place that I think it's worthy of someone else reading it. NaNo gives me a good jump on things though.
How does NaNoWriMo challenge/ encourage you?
NaNo challenges me to write everyday and to make it a priority. I seriously love writing and reading. Someone that I recently met said that she wished she could be as passionate about something as I am books and writing. But, life often gets in the way and with two kids who are still quite demanding of my time, some days writing just gets tossed out. NaNo makes me write and I like that.
What benefits would students participating in the Young Writer's Program reap?
When you participate in the Young Writers Program you are given two things:
1. The time to write. There's a set time each day just to write down whatever plot is tickling your brain.
2. Nothing has to be perfect. So many times in school you are writing for a grade. During the Young Writers Program it's a time to experiment and write without pressure of something being spelled completely right (you should try to spell the word as close as you can). I love NaNo because I get to write like that as well. It's just a time to get my thoughts on paper, I can edit later.
How can teachers encourage their students to write, whether for NaNoWriMo or not?
If you have journaling in your class, give your students the opportunity to write something other than the topic you've posted. When I was teaching I gave my students the freedom to do this on most entries. I just wanted them to write and work on expressing themselves this way. I had a teacher in eighth grade who gave 1 pt extra credit for each additional journal entry you wrote. It was because of that incentive that I wrote my first broad strokes of a novel.
What have you learned from/ been surprised by about NaNoWriMo?
Thanks to NaNo I've learned you can't edit a blank page. NaNo makes me push through my writer’s block or life distractions to get words on the page. It's taught me how to plot and do my research before November so that I don't spend what little writing time I have doing research. It's taught me how to organize all of this research (including character descriptions, place descriptions and other pertinent pieces of information). I found a writing software that I adore that has been super helpful. If you are participating in NaNoWriMo you can use this software for free during the month of November(scrivener is the software).
What's your favorite thing about NaNoWriMo?
My favorite thing about NaNo is the community! There are Facebook groups, write-ins and virtual write-ins. This year I recruited my best friend from high school to write. We met on a writing board back in the day and she has since stopped writing for fun (college will do that to you) and I've encouraged her to get back into it with NaNo. We don't live in the same states so it'll be fun to "virtually" write together this year.
If you want to know more about NaNoWriMo, check out their Educator Resources for basic information, setting up a virtual classroom for your students, connecting with other educators, and even publishing student manuscripts. NaNoWriMo is about encouraging creativity and accomplishing a major goal, great gifts to give your students.