Twenty kids at my elementary school have taken on the challenge of writing an entire book in one month! November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, and you can learn more about it here: www.nanowrimo.org. Last year, 35,000 kids around the country participated.
Here’s how it works: The Office of Letters and Light has put together what they call a “100% Awesome, NON-LAME workbook” and this workbook, which really is awesome, can be downloaded from the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program website. There are also detailed lesson plans to download. Having never taught kids as young as five years old how to write a book, these guides have made teaching a lot easier!
A co-worker, whom I’ve nicknamed WigMo, and I started prepping our brave writers at the beginning of October. Since our project is an extra-curricular activity, we were asked not to use school class time for our NaNo instruction, so we faced a bit of an obstacle there. Plus, space for twenty writers in a busy school is often hard to find. But our dedicated writers helped us find a way to make it work. Three days a week they arrive a full forty-five minutes before school even starts and we meet at the back of the library, the auditorium, or, if those spaces aren’t available to us, we sit on the floor in the hallway. When there’s a will to write, there’s a way to get ‘er done!
On our first day, we discussed our “inner editor” and how sometimes criticism can stop us cold dead in the middle of a sentence. To write a book in a month, the kids agreed that they needed to temporarily feel free of punctuation and spelling rules. So, they each made a cut-out paper doll of their inner-editor and WigMo gathered them up and locked them away. They will be allowed to come out in December for the revision, but until then, they stay quiet in a box, high on a shelf.
We’ve warmed the kids up with discussions and exercises on developing really cool and interesting main characters. As a group, they created Cleopatra, a faceless goddess of work who lives inside a whale and invents toys that she distributes through the whale’s blow hole. What Cleopatra wants more than anything in the world is to get out of the whale. There’s more to the story, but I probably shouldn’t spoil it for you because our youngest authors from Kindergarten through second grade, will be working on this story as a collaborative effort in November. WigMo and I will scribe the book for them and I can’t wait to find out how Cleo will get out of the whale!
Our older authors will be writing independently. We’ll all still meet at the same time and same places during the month of November, but they’ll be doing their own writing while getting some help and encouragement from WigMo, me, and the other authors. Yesterday we had our kick-off party. Parents came for juice and pastries while their kids signed the NaNo contract, agreeing that they intended to write a book and meet their designated word count (most chose to write 3000 words) during November.
Wish them luck! And if you’d like to follow their progress, check back here every Thursday during November.
Jennifer Duddy Gill has the privilege of working with truly amazing kids in an elementary school in Denver. She also writes humorous middle-grade novels and is represented by Wendy Schmalz.