Some of you may be looking at my sidebar and wondering, “What is NaNoWriMo?” Well, I will just tell you that it’s probably one of the most exciting, intense things I’ve ever been a part of as a writer and as a teacher.
National Novel Writing Month.
Yeah, NaNoWriMo for short. It happens every November, and aspiring novelists from all over the world sign up for a 30 day writing marathon. The goal? Write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. After researching for the better part of October, I decided that I would sign up for NaNoWriMo, and in addition, challenge my fourth graders to write their own novels in 30 days as a part of the Young Writers Program challenge.
In mid-October, I pitched it to them. Most of their little, nine year-old jaws dropped when I explained that they were each going to write a novel in 30 days. Although a few of them were already sharpening pencils and opening up composition books before I could even finish explaining the program. (Yeah, that was me as a child.) But the idea was for them to write “fluently” for 30 days. Each student set a goal for anywhere between 2,000-10,000 words. We invested two weeks planning the novels in class. We signed up on the Young Writers website, and the kids made bracelets and bookmarks that simply said: NaNoWriMo! We even hung signs around our classroom and on the door that proclaimed:
“We eat novels for breakfast!”
Plot triangles filled the writing time in class. Brainstorming about the protagonists and antagonists filled their heads at lunch time and in the hallways. It was funny to hear them talking about their settings and plots in the hallways. Ancient Greece, a faraway planet, an enchanted kingdom in the hills of Ireland. Would Josh escape from the aliens? Would Isa find out who her mysterious prince was? Would Journey be able to help her brother before it was too late? Would the smoke bomb go off and get everyone in trouble?
These brilliant children had bought into the contest. Hook. Line. And Sinker.
Or should I say pencil, sharpener, and paper?
When November 1 came along, we kicked off the day by writing during breakfast time and for the entire language arts block. Happy, little sounds of pencils scratching against blank pages filled my classroom. An occasional giggle. A gasp here or there. They were enthralled, and I was inspired just watching them. Most of the kids groaned when I told them they had to put their novels away to get started on math. They counted their words and updated them on their Nano pages. This was the beginning of something very special. Kids would beg to come back to the classroom to write during lunch. They’d take their novels with them to recess and even sit working on it for hours after school at home. They set mini word count goals and held each other accountable. They praised each other, pushed each other, and best of all they wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more.
Parents were telling me, “I can’t get him to stop writing. This is amazing!” And it was.
At the end of November, I had 11/18 students “win” NaNoWriMo by completing their word count goals. And even though some didn’t finish in November, they’re still working to finish their novels anyway. They want to earn their “NANO WINNER” button to wear proudly on their badges.
Since November, we’ve started a Novel Writing Club that meets during lunch once or twice a week, and the kids are working on revising and editing their novels to self-publish before the summer. Most days during our writing club, they’re either sharing “funny” parts or “best scenes” with each other for the first few minutes, but after that, it’s all business.
These kids are amazing. The other day, I overheard this conversation during their “writing” lunch time.
“Hey, have you ever had a crush on one of your characters? Is that dumb?” (Lots of giggles.)
“No, but I’ve wanted to slap this one character. She’s always getting into trouble for no reason.” (More giggles.)
“I can’t stop thinking about the sequel to my story. It’s going to change everything!”
The 18 students in my class wrote 74,715 words during November during NaNoWriMo. And as a result, they’re more confident, creative, and fluent writers than they were on October 31. In fact, I had a teacher visit my class in December, and we did a “quick write” based on a prompt I gave. The students were sharing their drafts (after only getting ten minutes to speed write) and the teacher commented, “How do you get them to write like that? That’s amazing.”
Some of the kids in my class started to giggle, and one boy proudly replied, “NaNoWriMo!”
So if you’re a teacher, and you’re wondering, “How in the world can I get them to love writing?”
If you’re a writer, and you’ve found yourself lost in your plot triangle as if it were the Bermuda triangle, then I’ve got ONE strange-sounding word for you…