When I was in school, few things earned more student gripes and groans than minimum word counts. Eight-hundred-word essays and three-thousand-word research papers never fazed me—I was already a writer-nerd, hiding in the library and scribbling furtively into notebook after notebook. Most of my classmates, however, were less comfortable with the prospect of churning out large chunks of text. Writing three thousand words sounded like the literary equivalent of doing the backstroke across the Atlantic.
Imagine how they would’ve reacted if one of our teachers had decided to have us participate in National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known to its veterans as NaNoWriMo, NaNo, or “Holy heck, it’s not already November again, it can’t be!”). NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org
) is exactly what it sounds like—a program that challenges you to write an entire novel (or at least fifty thousand words of one) in a month. In November, to be exact.
Fifty. Thousand. Words.
But really… Why not? What better way to show students that a word count is nothing to dread than by proving to them just how much more they’re capable of?
NaNoWriMo is a terrific program. I graduated years before it existed, but as an adult I participated from 2003 through 2010. The only year I didn’t complete my 50K was 2010; appendicitis is such a bother when you’re trying to keep to a writing schedule. I’ll be NaNoing again as soon as my November schedule allows for it.
NaNo has done some great things for me. I had already written a few novel-length manuscripts, but finishing an entire draft in a month gave me a different sort of focus, a new grasp of the craft of writing. It showed me how to let my rough drafts roam wild and free, to let my characters do what they wanted, even if it took them far off-course.
Sure, that approach led me into some real messes, but hey, that’s what revision is for.
It also smacked me upside the head with the reality that, if I put in the time each day, I can accomplish something pretty nifty in a relatively short period.
Best of all, NaNo gave me the drive to write the first draft of SPOOKYGIRL: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR, my YA paranormal fantasy novel that came out earlier this month. In the summer of 2007, while I was driving from Orlando down to my home on Marco Island, Florida, a character named Violet popped into my head. She was a sort-of-goth girl, although she’d resist labels and insist she’s not goth or emo or scene or punk. She could talk to ghosts, but unlike the countless stories in which characters view this ability as a gift, she’d just be bored and annoyed by the whole thing. She’d have a dorky goth-wannabe friend and a pet poltergeist, and she’d live in a funeral home.
For the next few months, that idea simmered in my head, twisting and turning its way into something resembling a plot. What if this girl came from a family of ghost hunters? What if her mother had died mysteriously during an investigation and her mother’s ghost was the only one Violet couldn’t seem to find? And what if Violet had plenty of other spooky school shenanigans to deal with along the way? What if she had to embrace her ability whether she wanted to or not?
Then came November. NaNo time was upon me, and it was the push I needed to drag the story out of my head and get it down. Without that thirty-day deadline looming, I might have worked my considerable procrastination skills indefinitely, and I wouldn’t be staring at a hardcover copy of my first published book right now.
(Okay, I just have to bask in that for a moment. My first published book. I am now able to walk into bookstores and see SPOOKYGIRL on the shelf. I can’t tell you how many epic squeals and ridiculous dances of joy this has inspired. I unwrapped that advance copy right in the post office parking lot. Oh, you need me to move so you can park? You can wait a minute! This is important!)
That’s the sort of crazy magic NaNoWriMo can create.
Of course, a lot more than just that NaNo draft went into getting SPOOKYGIRL published. It also took several rewrites and revisions, dozens of queries to literary agents, a major award (the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction), and a metric ton of luck and fate and serendipity along the way. But none of that would’ve been possible if I hadn’t sat down and written the rough draft in the first place, and NaNo helped me do that.
Students whose teachers introduce NaNoWriMo as part of a curriculum can experience some of that NaNo magic. Writing a novel will show them just how much they can accomplish; NaNo encourages the development of skills like time management that are integral in and beyond a student’s academic career. It’s great college prep, too—no student who wrote a novel in high school is going to cower in the face of a ten-thousand-word term paper in college.
The idea of having students tackle novel-length writing projects is undoubtedly daunting to most teachers. No worries, educators—NaNo has you covered with its Young Writers Program
. The site includes a variety of resources for students and teachers; it offers everything from introductory information to in-depth lesson plans and assessment suggestions for how to tailor the NaNo concept and its word count goal to your individual classroom (and how to assess your students’ efforts without having to wade through all those manuscripts in full).
Oh, and the best part? There’s also some great information about helping students publish their finished books through services like CreateSpace
, which usually offers NaNo winners free paperback copies of their finished novels. Seeing one’s work in print like that inspires a lot of pride.
If it sounds like I’m selling NaNoWriMo, I totally am. I love the concept, and I love the organization that has grown up around it. It’s done a lot for me. Anything that encourages freewheeling creativity on this level is pretty brilliant, and that seems like a fantastic gift to share with your students.
And who knows? You might even be inspired to join in yourself. As SPOOKYGIRL’s Violet would say, “Everyone has a story, and that includes you, so just freakin’ tell
it.” Jill Baguchinsky was the only kid in town who used to dress up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween. Jill lives in Florida, where she spends too much time on the Internet, sneaks off to Disney World whenever possible, and serves as secretary to her grumpy muses. The winner of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Young Adult Fiction, SPOOKYGIRL: PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR (Dutton, 2012) is her first book.
© 2012 Jill Baguchinsky. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.