Many would-be writers know the meaning of the acronym NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place every November. It is a month long writing journey that allows writers of every age to immerse themselves in the novel writing experience. The goal is for adult participants to pen 50,000 words in 30 days. For students 17 years and under there is even a Young Writers Program. Students may participate by determining their own reasonable word count goal for the month and stretching to reach that goal. The goal of NaNoWriMo is not to create a perfectly edited, complete work but to generate words – – editing comes later. NaNoWriMo allows a writer to curb his inner editor, freeing the writer to try wild and creative things, create new worlds, and new characters with the goal of creating a rough novel.
NaNoWriMo creates a world-wide community of writers from over 200 countries, who, for one whole month, are sharing the struggle and joy of writing. There are forums to use for expert advice or just some encouragement. Specific student forums also exist that are closed and limited to Young Writers, teachers, and mentors. Local moderators exist to help organize local group write-ins and local challenges.
NaNoWriMo for Young Writers encourages writers 17 and younger to set a writing goal and participate during the month of November. This part of the program has been used by both traditional writing teachers and homeschoolers to teach writing skills to their students. By setting a word goal and knowing the timeframe is 30 days the student learns a lot about time management. Completing the assignment gives all participants confidence to take forward into the next project. The mechanics of writing, like grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure can improve dramatically. The creative process of making new characters, new situations, and plotting a story becomes more understandable. And all of this with the goal and the deadline in mind always at the front of the student’s mind.
Basically, students create an account on the website. It is really important that they register as young writers because that status allows them to set their own word goals. Students over the age of 13 are permitted to register as adults, but to win the challenge they would have to create 50,000 words and this is an amount that most young writers find overwhelming and ultimately defeating.
Students are encouraged to create a profile. This is the part where they will set their word count goals, as well as their author information, which will include time zone.
Beginning on November 1st, students may begin generating words on their novels. Prior to November 1st students may begin prep work for their novels, to include checking out the information in the workbooks, brainstorming story ideas, outlines, and character creation.
Students are encouraged to start on a new story idea rather than work on an already existing idea because it allows them to start fresh without having to fit in constraints of previous stories.
All during the month of November students should write with their word goal in mind, practicing good time management to complete their novel by midnight on November 30th.
Prior to midnight on November 30th, students will use tools available on the NaNoWriMo website to count their words, encrypt their writing, and submit their encrypted writing for validation. If the student achieves his or her established word goal they win!
17 and under student writers may change their word goal until November 24th, either up or down, depending on their success. Students should remember that this writing event is intended to stretch their abilities.
On December 1st, after validating and successfully completing the challenge students should collect their rewards. These vary from year to year, but in the past have included five free copies of their completed novel, as well as web badges, certificates, and of course, bragging rights!
A couple of words to students and parents at this point—
There is an information letter available on the site for parents and families of participants. It contains information regarding participation in the Young Writers Program as well as requirements for successful completion.
Forums are available for students to participate in, these are monitored and moderated. Topics on the forums include writing prompts, extracurricular activity forums where students can share their interests outside of writing, as well as games and activities.
The entire atmosphere of NaNoWriMo is intended to be positive, upbeat, encouraging, and helpful. Students should feel supported and uplifted as they write their way through the month. Pep talks from established novelists are meant to help Young Writers achieve their goals.
What skills can NaNoWriMo provide to students?
According to the staff of NaNoWriMo there are at least four major things that students who participate in the novel writing can expect to achieve by the end of the month.
Fluency: Students will be writing a lot of words. Were they to choose 50,000 words, such as adult participants write, that would be 1666 words per day. Students are not expected to write that much, and indeed, are allowed to set their own personal goals. Those goals are intended to challenge the student writer so that they have to stretch to achieve those goals. As the student practices writing a large number of words over the month, he or she becomes more comfortable not only with the writing process but also the creative process. Students learn to write more fluently and the sheer volume assists the student in improving grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.
Image courtesy of Time4Writing.com
Confidence: By setting a goal and achieving the stretch to that goal, students gain confidence in their abilities to write. Additionally, students learn that they are capable of achieving their goals, even if it is difficult, or they have to take extraordinary measures. Confidence is also boosted for students through the shared experience and encouragement of thousands of others who are also participating in the novel writing event.
Creativity: The entire month of November is designed to be intensely creative! Students practice creating characters, creating worlds, creating scenes, and creating words. In some ways, the novel writing month is like immersion in the creative process. Some students also find that the word counts and deadlines encourage them to make decisions. For example, students do not really have time to debate actions of their characters; students must go ahead and make decisions regarding their story and characters, without becoming paralyzed by the choices to stay on track with their deadlines and word goals.
Time Management: Students learn to take a large project and break it down into manageable pieces. Students learn to manage their schedules so that they are able to dedicate the amount of time necessary to writing. One student mentioned that he realized that he spent an unreasonable amount of time gaming, and realized that if he managed his time better his schoolwork could be accomplished in much less time. Time management is a skill that will be of benefit long after the month of November and the NaNoWriMo challenge are over.
How can students use NaNoWriMo for credit?
Basically, NaNoWriMo is creative writing. But to be used for a creative writing credit more than just word accumulation is necessary. To be used for credit an instructional component to the course is also necessary. The good news is that the NaNoWriMo site provides free downloadable workbooks for high school students, as well as elementary and middle school students. The workbook is also available to purchase in hard copy from CreateSpace for a small fee.
Included in the workbook are activities to help the student create characters, activities to help the student analyze what they like about novels,
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
what they don’t like about novels, and how to incorporate that analysis into the creation of their own novels. Additionally there is information to help the student create plots. Finally, there is encouragement to help students stay motivated to complete their rough novel.
In addition to the workbook one of the most interesting things available to students and novel writers of any age who are participating in NaNoWriMo are pep talks which are penned by popular authors and contain encouragement, tips, tricks, and words of wisdom from successful novelists. Each year there is a new panel of novelists who write the pep talks, but participants also have access to previous year’s pep talks, so there is never a shortage of help and encouragement. Students will receive the pep talks via email during the month of November.
It would be reasonable to consider the instructional materials included in the workbook, the pep talks from published novelists, as well as the actual writing of the novel as a creative writing course. Some homeschooling parents have used it as a half a credit of creative writing. Other families have added the National Novel Editing Month, by the same group of people in the spring semester. This usually occurs in March. The intent of NaNoEdMo is to log 50 editing hours which is considered a reasonable amount of editing for a short novel. The NaNoWriMo site offers a page of helpful links and resources, including writing contests and programs. By incorporating some of the other style events similar to NaNoWriMo that can be found on the links and resources page, it would be possible to create a full year creative writing course.
NaNoWriMo is a month long writing event that begins on November 1st and ends at midnight on November 30th. Student participants, 17 years and under, set their own achievable word goals with the aim of completing a rough novel. Along the way, students are encouraged to check out the workbook pages, pep talks, and forums with the purpose learning more about the novel writing process, tips from authors on how to achieve their goals, and encouragement from fellow participants. Many students experience a sense of comradery with other participants who are also trying to achieve their writing goals. NaNoWriMo has grown over its sixteen year history; in 2013 it logged over 300,000 adult participants and almost 90,000 student participants, so the student is in abundant company. They are expecting more than 400,000 participants in 2014. The entire process, including instructional materials in the workbook, pep talks from established authors, and the writing of the novel can be used for creative writing course credit. Homeschooling parents will determine the credit value of the NaNoWriMo experience.
If you are ready to get started go to the NaNoWriMo sign up page to take the first step in this creative writing journey!
*NaNoWriMo logo image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month