Several years ago a couple of my high school students came to me and introduced me to National Novel Writing Month. The name is misleading since people from all over the world participate. The goal is that for the month of November you write 50,000 words. That is about 1,666 words a day. Everyday.
Of course I thought this terrible idea was a wonderful idea.
I invited all my students to join us. I even created Gaboury's Novel Writing Month which is to write 8,000 words. Between NaNo and GaNo we have classtimes filled with talk about writing...from the inside. I hear students talk about 'my protagonist' and "I wrote last night until my mother freaked out and told me to shut down and go to bed, she doesn't believe I'm writing my novel, she thought I was on Facebook!"
This year one of my old students said we needed a midpoint goal. So we named it after her and 25,000 words is the goal.
I love how kids gets excited about writing, how some of my old students come back and want to participate even though they won't be exempt from other writing assignments. I allowed my students who participated in the writing month to be exempt from certain assignments. They also receive an A in the place of the exempted assignments. If they reach the new VaNo, they will received some baked prize from my old student. And if they reach NaNo's goal they get a hand made scarf from me.
I explain the word count. I tell them how insane it will make them. And I tell them they can't edit (believe it or not that really bothers them). And I tell them their name goes on the wall in the back of our room and they have to update it as they write. I tell them they can write about anything. The story they have festering in their head. A daily rant of their lives. I tell them about the A for trying, the baked goods, the scarf.
You wouldn't think they'd want to go near this challenge for what seems like 'little' prizes for the outcome. But they can't wait to start.
As they begin to write some find the voice they silenced many years ago. Some find a voice they never knew they had, as well as a confidence. Some find writing can be therapeutic. Then they come back next year and even though they have to do this writing in addition to their regular English work, if they don't have me as their teacher again, they throw themselves back into the melee.
I think that for the month of November some of the society walls are taken down. Kids look at each other as fellow authors, writing to tell stories, be it their own day to day stories, or the fictional ones living in their head. A few students, once they crossed those barriers for November, leave them down for December and beyond. Once they were able to communicate as writers, once they realized the person they thought fit in a certain clique...also fits into their own world...they realize that impressions are not always accurate. What is more telling is how a person deals with life when it gets hard and stressful (and believe me solid writing for a month IS stressful!). They find they count on one another more than their regular friends during this time because their friends just think they're nuts.
Amazing things happen in my class in November. We all end up a little crazy. Overwrought. We learn more about what we are made of and what others are made up of.
Some of my most struggling kids choose to participate and find success in ways they never thought they could.
I always tell them you can always edit SOMETHING but you can't edit NOTHING. You have to get things out and onto paper or a screen...then you can readjust it, reorganize. But you need to get it out there first, you need to stop being afraid it won't be perfect. Give yourself permission to flop, to hate it, to make your ideas go wild. You have control. For one month you are the Controller...of at least your story/writing.
And you can edit in December. But for November just dream the impossible.
When they see that happen for one month...it is easier for them to buy in for more...they are the controller of their own LIVES. And they can make the impossible come true.
When I see my students so thrilled about writing, so jazzed up about what is going on in their head, or finding peace through their writing, I rediscover the power of writing in a fresh way. Alex, my 7 year-old wants to do it this year, so she is doing MiniGaNo, and her goal is 2,000 words.
So, for the month of November I will trying to write my novel. Dreaming the impossible. Wish me luck!