Good thing I have the whole summer off!
Good thing I have the whole summer off!
My students have been working on their novels for a couple weeks now, and as November 15 approaches, they know it’s time to get to 50% of their word goal. When they cross that halfway line, they choose a NaNoWriMo button to wear proudly on their hoodie:
But many of us are starting to feel like we’re running out of steam. The story we were so excited about in October is suddenly boring and annoying, and we need some inspiration. According to writer and pep-talker Robyn Schneider, it’s time for a box castle:
We don’t have room in our classroom for cardboard boxes, blankets and pillows, but we can take Robyn’s advice that a change in location can help vanquish our suck dragons and move us into another great scene in our novels. And we know that just one great scene can lead to another and to another…
So we move outside, or we curl up on carpet squares, or we just roll over for a different view of the classroom. And of course we string up lights, because it isn’t a box castle without lights.
How do you celebrate that magical 50%? And what is your favorite version of a box castle? Where do you go when you need a change of writing scenery?
Today is November 1st, which means WriMos all over the world are silencing inner editors, tackling plot bunnies, vanquishing suck dragons, building box castles, pantsing or plotting, striving for that ever elusive word goal and the bragging rights of winning as they NaNo the night away in Write-Ins with fellow WriMos. They rely on caffeine, sugary snacks (thank you, Halloween), the Dare Machine, Pep Talks, fellow WriMos (both online and in person), Word Wars, NaNo Stats, and an ever growing online community of WriMoVloggers.
Do you speak NaNoWriMo, or did I lose you at “plot bunnies”? Either way, you are sure to be bombarded with NaNoVocab, as your WriMo friends clutter your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feeds with their daily word goals, #amwriting, word count celebrations, and woe-is-me-I-didn’t-have-time-to-write-today sob stories. To help you understand all things NaNo this month (and possibly entice you to join), I offer you a glossary of NaNoVocab:
NaNoWriMo: the vision that started it all, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to writers everywhere to pen 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in the month of November. The student version from the Young Writers Program allows students to choose their own word goal and write towards it in November.
NaNo: verb; to participate in NaNoWriMo; to write; as in, Did you NaNo today? How much NaNo-ing did you do over the weekend?
WriMo: noun; person who participates in NaNoWriMo; as in, Are you a WriMo? Did you see all those WriMos in Starbucks?
Word Goal: noun; the total number of words a WriMo will try to write in November; also the number of words a WriMo needs to write each day in November. Not to be confused with a complete draft of a novel, a word goal is simply a target. As experienced WriMos know, reaching the magical 50,000 words on November 30 does not give one a complete draft of a novel, especially if one reaches 50,000 words right in the middle of a sentence.
Pantser: noun; person who writes without planning or plotting ahead of time; as in, Are you a WriMo pantser? Do you write by the seat of your pants? Pants: verb; to write without a plan. Due to the tight time frame of NaNoWriMo, pantsers can learn from plotters (below) so that when they get writer’s block, they can go back to their plan for inspiration.
Plotter: noun; person who outlines, plots, and plans his/her novel before writing it; as in, I outlined my entire novel, but it took a turn I didn’t expect, and now I have to start all over, plot it again, and start writing again. I’ll never win! Due to the tight time frame of NaNoWriMo, plotters can learn from pantsers to just write from their guts without needing to follow a plan.
Winner: noun; one who reaches 50,000 words by midnight on November 30; NaNoWinners receive no prizes, but they do earn bragging rights forever (or at least until the next November, when everyone’s word count is reset to 0). Participants in the Young Writers Program who reach their self-determined word count goals by November 30 are also crowned winners, and along with bragging rights, they earn five free copies of their novel published through CreateSpace, and they may (like some of my students) sell them on Amazon. Of course, this means these young writers must also complete, revise, and edit their novels for publication.
Inner Editor: noun; often the bane of every writer’s existence, our inner editor can lead to writer’s block, as it sits on our shoulders and nags us, pointing out every mistake we make, every awkward sentence, every plot hole and inconsistency. While an inner editor really comes in handy in the revision and proofreading phase of writing, we need to silence that nag during the rough draft phase. Since we need to write a lot (and fast) in order to win by November 30, we need to let go of that need to write perfectly and beautifully, and heed the wise advice of novelist John Green, who says, “NaNoWriMo gives me permission to suck.” Yes, get those English teachers off your back, silence your inner editor, and write that sucky first draft! Plenty of time to entertain that inner editor after you reach your goal on November 30.
Box Castle: noun; cozy place to curl up with your writing; place of WriMo inspiration; cardboard box or table+blanket fort or pillows in your closet. Inspired by NaNoWriMo Pep Talker Robyn Schneider, your box castle just might get you past the mid-way point in November when you aren’t quite to the mid-way point in your word count. My students were inspired to write in their classroom version of box castles:
Plot Bunnies: noun; story ideas that invade your brain and must be written into your novel. Ignored plot bunnies will badger you until you do include them. While they may seem to be bad ideas, plot bunnies can benefit the WriMo because (1) they will add to your word count, and (2) they can surprise you by breathing new life and unexpected twists into your story.
Suck Dragons: noun; issues in your story that get in the way of its success, such as lack of plot (there is no problem for your protagonist to solve) or structure issues (such as boring scenes or pacing problems). WriMos facing writer’s block can break through it by going back and vanquishing suck dragons from earlier in their draft.
WriMoVloggers: noun; WriMos who vlog (a.k.a., video blog, or make YouTube videos) about NaNoWriMo. Since writing is very hard work, many WriMos discover that it’s much more fun to make videos about writing than to do the actual writing. The online community of WriMos on YouTube is an enthusiastic, devoted, and very silly group of vloggers (and procrastinators) who are available to inspire, motivate, and chastise you to get back to your writing instead of wasting time watching videos on YouTube.
Write-Ins: noun; community events where WriMos gather together to work on their novels. Held in coffee shops, bookstores, gymnasiums and basements, Write-Ins offer writers the chance to write with other writers, but often lead to more community building, game playing, coffee drinking, and plot planning than actual writing. While writing may be a solitary, lonely endeavor, we often get more writing done when we are alone. But, hey, even writers need a break. And friends. And fun. So get thee to a Write-In!
Word Wars: noun; timed writing events that challenge writers to write more words than another WriMo in a brief, timed race. While Word Wars may not produce the best writing, the desire to beat an opponent can blast a writer out of writer’s block and back into the game of writing. Word Wars may happen face-to-face during a Write-In, but more often they take place online via chat rooms or Twitter.
Dare Machine: noun; tool to combat writer’s block. The Dare Machine dares writers to incorporate random plot/character/setting/conflict suggestions into their novel. Similar to plot bunnies, the dares might be ridiculous suggestions that don’t make any sense in one’s story (e.g. “include a dog who steals underwear,” or “have someone eat poisoned food”), but they can also take a WriMo’s story on an unexpected path that leads to an actual plot goldmine.
NaNo Stats: noun; online graph of progress toward one’s word goal. Plot, character development, and conflicts may be central to the writing of a novel, but during NaNoWriMo it’s all about writing 1,667 words per day to reach the magical 50,000 by the end of the month. To help motivate WriMos, the NaNoWriMo sites offer visual tracking of each writer’s progress. And sometimes updating one’s word count and seeing that bar graph move up is the only thing keeping us in our chairs (or box castles) and writing.
So there you go. Now when your friends post #amwriting and over-share their NaNo progress, you can reply with the vocabulary of someone inside the NaNo circle of WriMos. Or you can hide them from your feed until December 1st. We understand. Really, we do.
Want to know more about NaNoWriMo? Check out:
Happy NaNo-ing, all you WriMos!
The first time I introduced National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) to my 8th graders, I was terrified. One of my teacher friends had said, “They’ll run screaming from the classroom in tears!”
Some students did later confess to a brief moment of panic (“I almost lost my lunch!”), but the end result was resoundingly the most powerful and successful writing project I have ever seen in my classroom. So before you click away in fear at the words “novel writing,” let me share what NaNoWriMo is and why you should offer your students this literary challenge.
“I just think this whole thing about writing a novel is really cool. It made me think that a lot of things could be possible in the world. I mean I am thirteen years old and I just wrote my own dang novel! How cool is that? I think it is honestly amazing. I loved the writing time and I wish it wasn’t over!” -Jessie, 13
The actual writing of the novels starts on November 1, but free curriculum provided by the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo makes it easy for teachers to devote weeks (even a couple months) of valuable class time to the project. Go here to get started, and check out my own NaNoTeacher site for help bringing this awesome writing experience to your students.
Stay tuned over the next couple months for a few more posts on the NaNoWriMo project: getting your classroom ready, getting your students ready, assessing their work, and publishing. And please share your own NaNoWriMo stories below!
(originally published on edutopia.org)
If your students are feverishly writing novels as fast their little fingers can fly across the keyboards, anxious to meet their NaNoWriMo word goals by the end of November, you may be wondering how best to assess their work during this glorious month of literary abandon. Since it may be unrealistic for you to read the complete texts of their novels (I have 98 students writing an average of 15,000 words each, so I don’t plan to read them all cover to cover), I offer you these more realistic assessments:
The month-long journey of writing a lengthy story is valuable all by itself. Don’t work yourself too hard or put unnecessary stress on your students by trying to evaluate too much of what they have written. Focus on the beauty of smaller pieces and celebrate your students’ accomplishments as NaNoWriMo winners!
If your students are participating in NaNoWriMo (in T – 3 days), then they are probably chomping at the bit to start writing. There’s nothing like telling students they CAN’T write until a certain date to get them begging for permission to write! If they have created their characters, crafted their conflicts and plotted their plot, then they are probably more than ready to start chapter one.
But being ready to write doesn’t mean they are ready to deal with the inevitable road blocks that will get in their way once they get past the first page. Be proactive and get your students ready before they crash and burn:
If you are a teacher interested in bringing the magic of NaNoWriMo to your students, check out my NaNoTeacher website for oodles of help.
Bring it on, November! We are ready-WriMos.
We teachers of young adolescents learn early on to grab our students’ gratitude when we can: their glee over a clever assignment, their pride in a hard-earned grade, their bashful “thanks” as they hand over a holiday gift probably bought and wrapped by a parent. It’s a rare treat indeed when our students communicate their gratitude to us in writing.
Even better is when a student thanks us for something that we had hoped would be a valuable teaching strategy or meaningful lesson.
This student’s thank-you note was especially sweet: not only did he remember that I love dark chocolate, but he also recognized the value in having choices in the work he did in my class.
When my students write literary analysis, they get to choose which part of the literature they want to address and through which lens they will analyze it. When they join National Novel Writing Month, they completely own the novel they write: the genre, the plot, the characters, the conflicts. When it’s time to develop their expository writing skills, they create a magazine on a topic of their own choosing. In digital media class, my students choose what kind of project they want to create: architectural design, computer game design, movie-making, animation, computer coding, etc.
I am staunchly pro-choice in my classroom. I am pretty sure that the best learning happens when students have some say in how and what they learn.
How do you let your students own their work? What kinds of choices do you give them in the classroom?
You are frustrated with the testing emphasis in education, and you really resent politicians and non-educators trying to tell teachers what to do in their classrooms. You are especially upset over the shift away from creative, artistic pursuits in the classroom as drill-and-kill math and reading replace the arts. So what can you do to make a difference?
Don’t despair, my friend! The Office of Letters and Light is a non-profit organization that believes in “ambitious acts of the imagination,” and they really put their money where their mouth is. They provide the complete National Novel Writing Month curriculum, including student workbooks, teacher lesson plans, online support for students and teachers, AND it is all linked to the new Common Core Standards AND it is all FREE. What more could a teacher ask for?
My daughter, Chloe, and I are fundraising for this most excellent cause so that more students and teachers can write novels as part of their school experience. You have read about my students’ NaNoWriMo experiences here and here (and my current students are right in the middle of their month of “literary abandon” here) — now you can help us help them keep doing this important and beautiful work.
Just click on our fundraising page here: Laura and Chloe’s NaNoWriMo fundraising page and donate today! This is a last minute plea, as the race to be the top fundraiser ends this Weds. 11/14. Will you be the donor who gets us to our goal?
Chloe is offering a unique opportunity: donors’ stories may be written in to her current novel! Watch her video here to see how.
Watch this video to learn more about the great work of The Office of Letters and Light.
It’s Day One of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and my 8th graders wrote for a full hour in class, tap-tap-tapping away on the first chapters of their novels. They wrote in a Google Doc, which they shared with me, so when I should have been working on my own novel, I was taking peeks at theirs. Wow! Some great stuff. Here are just a handful of opening lines that caught my attention:
My favorite sound in the world is the click of a camera shutter, not the crack of a gunshot. (AG)
School sucks. Yet another black eye from yet another dumb brute who plays football. (NB)
We barely slid under the first gate before it was slammed shut. (DH)
My window overlooked New York City and I knew that somewhere past the newly constructed and the old historic buildings of New York were the graffitied and dangerous streets of the Bronx, leading to my favorite place in the world, Yankee Stadium. (SL)
The beginning of the end for me was when I moved to San Francisco. (PB)
He expected it to be just like any other school year: normal stupid friends, normal jerk teacher, normal inedible food, normal everything. (BK)
It was the long bitter winter of 2040 when all this began. (DW)
“Is he dead?”
“Of course he’s dead! That’s usually what happens when someone gets shot!” (BL)
Charlie stood in the doorway, a ripped piece of paper clutched in his hand—his good hand. (EB)
I took a deep breath, inhale, exhale, and stepped back into the monotony of my life. (JG)
It was september 2, 2033, the fourth week of school, and already I was wishing it was summer. (DG)
Life is like Russian Roulette, a game, a risk you take. It is a choice that comes with a chance, and the thrill, the temptation, of death. (RP)
Terry stared down at his scar as the rain splashed against the glass of the taxi car window. (DW)
Nate didn’t get it.“You’re fired, Nate. I’m sorry.” Only his boss, Mr. Newman, wasn’t sorry. (JS)
The woman clutched the man’s arm as the impact of the bombs shook the ground. (HD)
The sounds of blaring horns and rhythmic footsteps came echoing up through the narrow streets of the commerce district. (HH)
Hi, I’m Desean Rodriguez and I am a ninja. Yeah, no big deal really. (HK)
My sleep was plagued with nightmares, and I found little comfort in the darkness of my room. (JK)
I knew that at that very moment, I had been infected, I had been diseased, and I would never be the same again. (EF)
He had eaten out again, and having left without paying, the police were after him. (HH)
My name is Aurora Swayley. I am 17 years old. There is nothing special about me. That is until they entered my life. (GW)
Rain rolls down the window in time with my tears. (DC)
Ben Jackson was on his way to his dream – his Nobel Prize. (CM)
The frosty November air bit at my cheeks and water drops from the trees splashed down on my already wet hair. (EM)
School had been out for just a half hour when I checked my Google Drive again — and there I could see students working on their novels from home. Can’t wait to read more!