NaNoWriMo: Insane Writing Goals Lead to Brilliant Learning Outcomes

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nanowrimo.orgLook out social media: November is the month when Facebook explodes with frantic and highly-caffeinated status updates about something called “NaNoWriMo.” For those of you who haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short), the premise is simple: it’s a project in which participants write a 50,000-word novel between November 1st and the deadline of 11:59 PM on November 30th. That comes to an average of 1,667 words every day for a month!

The NaNoWriMo website helps keep people, even students over 13, on track and motivated with tips for writer’s block, encouragement, and an online community of supportive writers. It also helps novelists find local places where other participants are meeting to form a communal writing party. It’s free to sign up and registration is required only to verify word counts. NaNoWriMo has become increasingly popular since it launched in 1999. In 2010 NaNoWriMo calculated that novelists wrote 2.8 billion words and in 2013 over 400,000 people participated.

Novel writing for students

Instead of seeing writing as a tedious chore, it becomes an exciting challenge that both peers and friends are enjoying.
Writing is an essential skill for learning, development, and expressing ideas. It’s also a lot more complicated than it would seem at first glance. Writers must simultaneously pay attention to their organization, write logically, follow grammar and syntax rules, access complex and difficult language, use a form of communication that is far more stylized, formal, and demanding than regular speech, and still try to be entertaining. Writing almost 1,700 words in one day is a challenge. Some might say that doing it everyday for a month is insane, but student writers might attack this project.

NaNoWriMo offers teenagers the opportunity to create their own identities, learn to express themselves, and build confidence in their writing skills. This kind of novel writing contest can develop critical thinking and communication skills and lead to improvement in other areas of academic and social achievement. And writing is not just a helpful skill in school; it’s an essential job skill that employers are looking for in their new hires. Lengthy writing practice helps people learn to pose worthwhile questions, explain complex ideas, evaluate arguments, be persuasive, and more thoroughly examine a line of thought.

The Young Writers Program

While educators are free to host their own challenges inspired by NaNoWriMo at any time, November is an especially goodt time to focus on writing because there is such a large community of support and so many resources available. In 2005 NaNoWriMo started the Young Writers Program (YWP) which is for homeschoolers and K-12 students. The YWP allows students to choose their own word count goal but the idea is still the same: to write an insane amount in a short time. The standard word count goal for the YWP is 30,000.

In it’s first year, the YWP registered 150 classrooms and involved 4000 students in the challenge. Teachers registering a group of 10 or more students through a school can also get a classroom kit free of charge that includes things like stickers and pencils. Lesson plans and other resources are also available on the NaNoWriMo website, free of charge.

Promoting tomorrow’s novelists today

The NaNoWriMo organization runs other programs including laptop loaning for students without computers and the “Now What?” challenge, which launches a few months after the November challenge. During the “Now What?” stage writers go back to edit, revise, and make their quantity of work from November into quality work for the future. There are Internet seminars, publishing experts, and other NaNoWriMo novelists to offer advice. Writers also communicate on Twitter using hashtags so they can network with agents and publishers.

NaNoWriMo is a powerful writing program for students, which offers an alternative to other traditional writing programs that may discourage aspiring student authors. Instead of seeing writing as a tedious chore, it becomes an exciting challenge that both peers and friends are enjoying. NaNoWriMo also sidesteps the pressure to write something really well, which often is intimidating. The program also allows educators to connect with students using technology and social media, which students love. The entire challenge is web-based and students can talk about it over Facebook and connect discussions using Twitter hashtags.

If your students are participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge this November, we’d love to hear about your experiences and, perhaps, find our next favorite novel, along the way.

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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.

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