Lessons From National Novel Writing Month
I recently wrote about how school libraries can help young writers publish and promote their work through Makerspaces and student-produced book collections. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the popular and self-evidently titled writing project taking place this month, has been widely promoted as another way to encourage student creativity and goal-setting.
Since its humble, 21-member beginnings in 1999, NaNoWriMo has grown into an international, 250,000-participant effort. The challenge: Write a 50,000-word or 175-page novel during the month of November. Organized and promoted by the nonprofit Office of Letters and Light since 2006, NaNoWriMo has a robust social-media presence, partnerships with self-publishing platforms, and several high-profile success stories for former participants like Sara Gruen, author of Water For Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern, whose bestseller The Night Circus began as a NaNoWriMo project.. This year, numerous K-12 media outlets offered tips and resources for young challenge participants:
- The NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program offers resources for young writers and educators alike, including a Writer Community portal and the all-important Pep Talks.
- Writer's Digest is offering one NaNoWriMo tip every weekday for the month of November. While geared toward writers of all ages, the tips may be more accessible to older students.
- Publishing blog GalleyCat is also offering a daily NaNoWriMo tip, kicking off with a list of all 30 tips its editors offered in 2011.
- The Office of Letters and Light blog has recruited designers to come up with a list of 30 Covers [in] 30 Days. Students may find inspiration in these striking and quickly rendered covers.
- The New York Times' Learning Network blog featured a testimonial of sorts on NaNoWriMo from New Jersey high school teacher Jennifer Ansbach. Ansbach suggests classroom activities to supplement the novel-writing process.
- Public libraries across the country are hosting NaNoWriMo kickoff events and write-ins, encouraging aspiring novelists to make use of library resources and workspaces.
What happens to student novels when the month ends? Opportunities abound for students (and teachers) to publish their own work using online book design and production services. Createspace (an Amazon service) and Figment are NaNoWriMo's official publishing partners, but other popular options include Lulu, MagCloud, Isuu, Scribd, Smashwords (ebooks only), Blurb, and Mixbook (also ebooks only). Depending on price points for each service, schools may have the option of furnishing school libraries with a copy of each student-written novel.
Interestingly, just 36,843 of the event's 256,618 participants ended NaNoWriMo 2011 with a finished novel—that's about a 15 percent completion rate. While many students may not reach "The End," they will still have spent 30 days planning, writing, and revising. What material they do produce can be repurposed into new forms or continue to evolve as works in progress long past the end of NaNoWriMo.
Just as NaNoWriMo's lofty goals challenge students' determination and focus, understanding and accepting the possibility of failure may also contribute to their resilience and capacity for creative thinking. As numerous Education Week articles and Commentaries have suggested, students may need to learn to fail, and fail in order to learn. Recent news stories describe how nurturing creativity and encouraging imaginative play both involve a certain tolerance for failure. Angel B. Pérez espouses this philosophy in his piece on college readiness and admissions. And as Nikhil Goyal, a current high school senior and published author, writes in his book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School, some of the best learning is messy. He advises his peers to "start rolling around in the dirt from the get go." Whether or not you consider NaNoWriMo a worthy undertaking, it's important to anticipate how young people might benefit from creative challenges and achievements alike.