NaNoWriMo Recap

[UPDATE: The students made the newspaper! They were on the front page of the Youth section, and you can read all about it here.]

I’m so sorry! Crazy day got crazy and I didn’t even think about the post until… well, until right now. So so so sorry. I don’t even have the excuse of NaNoWriMo anymore. Posting now!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on here before (although it has been known to crop up in author bios before), but I love teaching writing. Although my degree is in education, I’m not a professional teacher. Instead, I stay home and babysit and raise fantastically smart kids. Even so, I like to poke my foot in the door of education whenever possible and I occasionally get the chance to teach. For example, my husband is a molecular biologist and taught a college level genetics class. But when it became apparent that they couldn’t write decent papers to save their lives, who did he call? (Hint: not Ghostbusters.)

Likewise, I have an English teacher friend who I have been pestering for years to do the Young Writers Program through the Office of Letters and Light (NaNoWriMo for youth). This year, she decided to take the plunge, and she dragged me into the lake with her. And I am so happy. It’s been fantastic.

Today we had our TGIO party of sorts at the high school. Seventy-five freshman printed out their stories to much revelry and joy (and banana brownies), burning through almost six packs of paper. The largest novel clocked in at just over 27,000 words, but 15,000 was probably closer to the average, with tons of students begging the teacher for more time because they really wanted to add just a little bit more to make everything perfect. I’ve been going in every now and then since the last few days of October to mentor the group and it’s been awesomely rewarding. I’ve written more than usual this month (finishing 72k) and wrote it a lot quicker than usual, ending a week early (mostly because I really wanted to edit it a bit before the students got to look at it). Also, I feel like the story itself was a lot more solid than my usual NaNoWriMo swill.

But I think my favorite part of the whole experience wasn’t my own improvements as a writer, but that of the students. They were not excited when we first announced what we were planning. (There was much groaning and eye rolling and flopping over across desks- you’d think they were having seizures to look at them.) But as we got through the planning stages and into the actual writing, they tolerated it, and then accepted it, and then embraced it. They wrote every class period that entire month and well over half the students worked on it at home as well. Their teacher was dazzled- she’d never seen them get so into a project before.

The unit was sprinkled with lessons on plot, sensory language, and literary devices which the students then integrated into their novels. They were encouraged to learn and use new words, to research and brainstorm and cook up wild new universes. They knew what was expected, and then they went beyond. So much of high school English is devoted to fiction and it was wonderfully empowering to the students to realize that writing isn’t just reserved for the Hemmingways and Fitzgeralds. It’s accessible to them, too. Their stories have value. Their voices can be heard. And I think that was my favorite lesson of the entire project.

Did any of you have any wonderful lessons learned throughout NaNo this year? Any epiphanies? Any spectacularly epic wins or fails? Let me know in the comments! I’ve missed interacting with the denizens of the ‘net over the last month.


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