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National Novel Writing Month

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

National Novel Writing Month (or “NanoWriMo”) began over a decade ago as a goal among a group of friends to each write a full-length novel in a month. The group grew, opening to the public, and created a website that functioned as a social network for writers participating from all over the world. They later developed a version for young writers: rather than having to write over fifty thousand words, a younger writer can select his own word count goal. Students can then log in once a day and clock their word count.  The site also offers resources to its young writers, including pep talks, workbooks, and helpful links, as well as opportunities to interact with their fellow writers on a forum. This year I decided to encourage my students to participate.  Given the amount of time the activity would consume from my students´ extremely occupied lives, I compensated them with an extra homework grade for every week they met their daily word count.

Honestly, I didn’t know how this was going to go . Were they really going to complete novels?  Could they keep up with it in addition to their other schoolwork? By the end of November, however, I had fourteen students with complete novels or novellas. We even met as a group after school to discuss the finished projects, since most of these young writers were not in the same section of my classes. Only one novel did not involve a murder of some kind—but then the same could probably be said of most novels. The result was not just vampires: they had written about characters from Greek mythology facing teen issues, a wedding gone awry, and a time machine with a drug addiction.

Some might say that students aren’t concentrating on what they’re writing, that this kind of automatic writing doesn’t lend itself to the analysis the College Board is looking for. Yet when students began revising one another’s works, I saw them making writerly decisions, from deciding whether to include a “the” in the titleto reconsidering the pacing of their narratives when their peer editors explained that a storyline had become confusing. I saw them struggling with word choice, and I saw them practicing the often tedious skill of revising grammar and mechanics.

At the end of the year, I’ve promised to publish their books after we finish the exam in May.  I think we’ll design and eventually sell their works. Students continue to be excited about the project even after it is done.  Many e-mailed me over our winter break to ask questions about the project.  One student lost her novel due to a computer malfunction and is now re-writing it from scratch.  Such discipline and spirit, it seems to me, is the stuff of novelists.