VINTON–The month of November is an exciting time for some of the English classes at William Byrd High School. November is the month where NaNoWriMo takes place. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.
NaNoWriMo has been an institution for 16 years, beginning in 1999, and the Young Writer’s Program (YWP) component (ywp.nanowrimo.org) has been in place since 2005. The main goal behind using NaNo in class is to allow students the freedom to explore their creative side while learning about the various components of literature. After all, the best way to get better at something is to do it, right?
To prepare for this exciting, yet arduous task, our classes focused on developing characters, examining types of conflict, and analyzing setting and its impact on a story during the month of October. We spent time discussing the act of writing and practiced using prompts, such as “Describe each day of the week as if it were a person,” or “Write about the contents of a coat pocket that could change someone’s life.”
When November 1 arrived, we began to start each class by writing a continuous piece that should result in a short story completely written by the end of the month.
While the adults who participate are required to write 50,000 words or more in order to “win,” the Young Writer’s Program allows those under the age of 18 to set their own word count goal for the month. Instructor Regan Clark and I set the minimum requirement for our freshmen classes at 5,000 words during the entire month of November, or roughly 167 words a day–a paragraph.
I discovered the program about six years ago when Raphael Telsch, another teacher at Byrd who is using the program with his sophomore classes, introduced me to it. The mere fact that it must be completed by the end of the month is the driving impetus behind the program. There is no putting it off. We’re only competing against ourselves, but it certainly helps push me.
This is going to be so much fun and is a wonderful exercise in perseverance, hard work, and creativity. The program is entirely free and open to anyone willing to push themselves to create a written piece. The only rules are that you do not begin writing until the first day of November and you do not edit at all–just write. (The editing will take place in December.)
In case students get writer’s block, the YWP site has what is called a “Dare Machine,” which offers prompts to help anyone who may get stuck. It is pretty handy! I try to offer my own “dares” in class, writing something new on the board every day. We also talk about everyday things that could be used.
For example, some of our technical classes are helping a baby goat by making prosthetic legs/a wheelchair for her. After talking about her, I told my students that my own NaNo, which is set in the 1600s, would have a goat that was crippled in it. Fodder can be found in all aspects of life.
We all–students and teachers–update our word counts on the YWP site. Mr. Telsch, Ms. Clark, and I are all “Writing Buddies” on the adult site (nanowrimo.org), too. Mr. Telsch and I write our word counts on the board, so it is all very encouraging with a very slight tint of competition–but all that combined makes it easier to keep plugging along. As of today, both Mr. Telsch and I have written over 25,000 words.
Students are writing about a wide variety of themes. One is writing fanfiction based on “Halo.” Another is writing what could be considered a fictionalized memoir. Some are just having fun writing whatever pops into their head at any given moment. We haven’t quizzed each other on what they’re doing, but I do offer them the chance to share anything about their stories.
My students seem to be enjoying the program. Aaron Nicely likes “the freedom to type what we want and to be creative. I like the Dare Machine—I think it’s cool.”
Abbey Carpenter likes NaNoWriMo because “you get to be the one to put the story together!”
Hannah Webb said, “I would like it to be published—it probably won’t—but that would be kinda cool.”
Considering the classes I’m using NaNo with, this is ultimately a chance for these students, who have grown up with SOL testing, to find their own love for English and literature. It gives them a chance to discover writing, to become intimate with their own characters, and to experience the process from beginning to end, rather than merely studying the finished product. I have seen reluctant writers become so excited they would rather write than participate in class. And I’ve seen more skilled writers spark at the chance to be creative rather than follow prescriptive curriculum standards that are suited to SOL prep.
The students we have in our freshmen classes have just blossomed as young writers! It is so exciting to see just how quiet the classroom gets, except for the “tickety” sound of keyboard keys. They all get so intent. It encouraged the classroom dynamic, too, as many of the students offer suggestions when their neighbors are stuck. I love it!
By Dionne Nichols, English teacher at William Byrd High School