Friday, November 7, 2014

Why do NaNoWriMo with students?

My students are writing novels, yes novels. I don't teach a graduate writing course; these are high school freshmen and they are really writing novels. Sometimes this raises concerns. If you are a teacher who is also doing NaNoWriMo with your students you may be familiar with these concerns. 

This is the generic version of what I tell people who express concerns about the volume of this project. 

This is the fourth year that all of the freshmen at my school have done NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It is a global event for adults and students. We participate in the young writer's program for students in grades 5-12. Right now there are over four hundred freshmen working on novels and three classes of seniors as well.

We spent several weeks in October on planning for the novel and we will spend several weeks in December on revisions and editing, but in the month of November we write. In class we do writing sprints. Most students write 200-300 words in 10 minutes and then we take a quick break before going again. In a typical period students get 20-40 minutes to write, depending on the length of the period.

Students set their own word count goals and we support them to revise those goals as needed. 20,000 is a pretty typical goal, but I have some students who write over 40,000+ words and others who write 5,000. The ypw.nanowrimo.org site gives students tools for monitoring the statistics of their novel and helps them stay on track to finish on time. Students who meet their goal by 11/30 "win" NaNoWriMo and get a code to receive five free copies of their book from Create Space. We have no control over the fact that the process for writing drafts ends on 11/30.

We encourage students to write daily, as in everyday. Students will take their overall goal and divide it by 30 to get the average number of words they should write every day. We use the ypw.nanowrimo.org site to see what percentage of their novel they have written. Students use their novel stats page to see if they are meeting their goals. If a student has less than 60% complete before Thanksgiving break we likely will encourage that student to adjust his or her word count goal.

Yes, NaNoWriMo comes with challenges, but it also shows students that they can accomplish something they never thought possible before. They learn about goal setting, time management, and the challenges of being an author. After NaNoWriMo, students never read a book again without considering the work the author did to create it. We also find students are never again intimidated by word counts of 1000-2000 words on essays after writing ten or twenty times that much for their novels.

Students may encounter periods of frustration. Many writers do depending on how their writing process is going. We expect that and are fully prepared to work with students when those stresses arise. We want NaNoWriMo to be an exciting, educational and rewarding process for students.

I hope this information is helpful.
As I write this, we just finished the first week of NaNoWriMo. Excitement is high, students are writing, novels are being created, and novelists are everywhere.