On October 27, 2013, Karina Yan Glaser logged onto the NaNoWriMo website and signed up to write a 50,000-word novel in the span of 30 days. The book that she wrote that November would be called The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and would be published by HMH in 2018. Although spending November writing an entire book may sound like an unusual challenge, Glaser was by no means alone. That year, over 300,000 other individuals signed up for the same challenge.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, begins November 1 and ends November 30. The website nanowrimo.org has been a hub for a virtual community of writers since 1999 and can be used to track word count by day, track achievements and milestones, and chat with friends also participating in NaNo. For those writers who have made this a yearly tradition for themselves, it's a month of no hesitation and little editing. Just steady, constant writing and an awful lot of coffee.
“NaNoWriMo taught me that every first draft is terrible and that the only thing preventing me from writing a book is the fear of the blank page,” Glaser said of her own experience. “Now I draft all of my novels using the skills I learned during NaNoWriMo.”
However, this challenge is not strictly for caffeine-fueled adults who want to sacrifice their entire November. The Young Writers program caters to educators who want to challenge their students to become more passionate writers.
NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program
In 2018, more than 100,000 students participated in the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, or YWP. An offshoot of NaNo, the YWP provides workbooks, classroom kits and an online classroom for educators to utilize all year long. Students are able to set their own word-count goal and then race against the clock.
Marya Brennan is the Director of Programs at NaNoWriMo and a former middle school teacher who used the YWP in her own classroom.
“[It is a] trackable, exciting goal … that was extremely motivating for my students,” Brennan said. “Finding a project that would be meaningful forever for them became super important to me. I knew that writing a novel is something that they would always remember.”
For the most part, the experience is completely digital, as it has been since it was first founded. The YWP can be used with other virtual writing programs like Writable to meet teacher and student needs for the year.
“You can run a virtual classroom, you can chat with their students, you can see their progress, you can read their novels, you can access all of the resources,” Brennan says. “It also works if you're a parent. We've always had a lot of homeschooled children using our site because it is a self-directed learning tool.”
Naturally, giving students complete creative freedom and a self-determined word count raises some questions about managing student learning outcomes and reviewing their final projects. After all, no teacher has time to grade a student’s novel, let alone a classroom full of them.
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