National Novel Writing Month happens every November, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. This year, for the first time, we opened up our NaNoWriMo club to 7th graders as well as 8th graders – our 7th graders used to do NaNoWriMo in their language arts classes, but due to curriculum changes that’s no longer happening. We still wanted to give them a chance!
One ridiculously awesome 8th grader wrote a 35,000 word novel, way surpassing her goal. Almost all of our students met their writing goal, whether it was 2,000 words or 20,000. Here’s how we do it.
In early October, we advertise for the program by going around to every eligible Language Arts class and explaining NaNoWriMo. We show off a couple of famous books written during NaNo (The Night Circus and Anna and the French Kiss are popular here, but there are many others) and explain that NaNo is a fun, low-pressure way to approach a big goal. We emphasize that the project is not graded and that students do not have any obligation to share their writing with us or anyone, although they are welcome to. Students set their own word count goals and can write anything: we’ve had kids write books of poetry, memoirs, short story collections, and lots of fanfiction. (LOTS.)
Later in the month, we start our prep classes. These are optional (except for the first meeting, when we sign up on the YWP website and hand out workbooks), and generally well attended. We hold these sessions during lunch. Topics vary depending on student interest, but we usually do sessions on character development, plot structure, outlines, setting, and writing with the five senses.
In November, the real work starts. This year we offered writing time every day during 7th and 8th grade lunch periods – some students came every day, others (including our most prolific student author) only came three or four times during the month. That’s okay! It’s flexible. Students use this time in a variety of ways: some will brainstorm or talk through their ideas together, some will critique each others’ work, and others work independently. We do allow students to co-write, and we’ve had some really amazing co-written work over the years.
We order the Classroom Kit every year. It includes a poster where we track students’ progress toward their goals. We hang it on the door to the library – the poster has the added benefit of attracting latecomers. We let students join up at any point during the month, though in practice no one joins after Thanksgiving break 🙂
At the end of the month, we remind them that what they have is a first draft! If they want to revise it later on they can. Most importantly, though, we have a party. Everybody gets swag (the classroom kit comes with pins and stickers) and some kind of snack (usually cupcakes), and they can share their stories if they want!
Young Writers Program: This is the official website of NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. You can set up your classroom here – I definitely recommend doing this; it’s the easiest way to keep track of what your students are doing – and you can make use of their extensive resources, like printable workbooks (these are awesome), lesson plans and classroom kits, and other good stuff.
If your students are at least 13, they can also sign up on the main NaNoWriMo site; every year a few of my students do this.
We are lucky to have a public library that participates in NaNoWriMo every year. This gives our students a chance to attend write-ins on the weekend. This year a few of them even went to prep classes in October. Check with your local public library to see what’s available near you. (You can also sign up for NaNoWriMo yourself to see regional activities – there are lots of write-ins targeted specifically at teen writers.)
Books: There are so many great books for this age group about the writing process. We keep ours on display throughout the month. Some of our favorite books on writing include Guy-Write, Spilling Ink, and Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink. We also have the NaNoWriMo book Ready, Set, Novel!, but be aware that it’s aimed at an adult audience, so your comfort with it may vary.
One question that always comes up: “How do I get an idea?” There are tons of writing prompts online, but there are two books our students love that address this concern. The Amazing Story Generator is a novelty book where each “page” contains three components. You can flip through them to get a (usually ridiculous) plot idea (see image).
We also love Image and Imagination: Ideas and Inspiration for Teen Writers, a totally gorgeous book of images and writing prompts to inspire even the most reluctant writer.