November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and aspiring writers all over the world celebrate by participating in a tough challenge: to write an entire novel, or 50,000 words, in 30 days. NaNoWriMo was founded by writer Chris Baty in 1999, and grew from 21 participants in its first year to more than 200,000 in 2010.
Writing an entire novel in one month may sound daunting, but the NaNoWriMo process focuses entirely on output– the goal is to write 50,000 words of prose, regardless of how unreadable or boring that prose may be. The NaNoWriMo website states, “Varying enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.”
This low-pressure approach to writing allows aspiring novelists to toss aside any reservations about how “good” their writing is, and just get down to the business of putting words on paper. It is precisely this laid-back attitude that may lend NaNoWriMo to success in the classroom.
Education blogger Donalyn Miller (also known as the Book Whisperer) writes about the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, which adapts the original NaNoWriMo goals for various age groups and provides writing and character development exercises to help students start on their very own novel-writing projects.
Miller writes of the program: “The coolest thing about it is that it can work with any population. Many teachers of reluctant writers (including ESL educators) love NaNoWriMo because their students find creative writing less intimidating. At the same time, advanced students get to challenge themselves in an exciting way.”
I can hardly imagine a better month-long project for a middle or high school English class to undertake. Creative writing is fun–you get to make up whatever you want!– and the open-ended nature of the assignment allows each student to work at his or her own pace and level of writing. I wish I had been able to participate in NaNoWriMo as a student. I still remember the eight-page story I wrote in 8th grade, and thought that it was the coolest thing we did all year.
The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program seems like a great way to improve kids’ literacy skills through a fun, creative project. And the original NaNoWriMo program is perfect for adults who have always wanted to write a novel but never had the time. I will definitely be struggling to get my 50,000 words done before December 1st. Join me?
What do you think of NaNoWriMo? Will you participate this year?
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