In 2012, I discovered something amazing—National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. What is it? It’s a writing challenge.
Participants commit to writing a novel (50,000 words) during the month of November. That’s 1667 words per day for thirty days. To ‘win’, you must be disciplined and turn off your ‘inner editor’. You must ignore the voice in your head telling you to go back and revise that scene or page just one more time. For one month, it’s about putting new words on the page—always moving forward.
At the end of my first NaNo event, I’d written 35,000 words. I didn’t win, but the words I’d written were surprisingly good, and I was that much closer to having my next novel completed.
Perusing the NaNo forums, I discovered writers in more populated areas benefitted from something extra. In addition to the online NaNo community, they gathered at libraries and coffee shops, discussing their plots and doing word sprints in person. I was SO JEALOUS! I wanted that too. I scoured the forums, but participants from my Caribbean island were extremely limited (there was only one other writer)!
At the same time, I was using a few high school students from the International School of Curacao (ISC) as beta readers. The English teacher at ISC mentioned that several of her students were committed writers. An idea was born!
I needed fellow writers to work with—they didn’t have to be adults, just writers. So, I investigated NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program (YWP). It’s for students up to the age of seventeen and participants can set their own word count goal.
So in 2013, I volunteered to bring NaNo to ISC! This year will be our third year and hopefully our biggest year yet. Here’s how it works:
With support of the principals and English teachers, I talk to the high school and middle school students and introduce each class to the program;
Interested students sign up and join ISC’s virtual classroom (this is done through the YWP site);
Students use the word count goal calculator (also through the YWP site) to figure out a realistic word count goal for the month; and
Just like with the adult version, we plan kick-off events, weekend writing sessions and word sprints at a local coffee shop, and a final celebration party.
It took some legwork to get the program going, but it’s been worth it. I’ve learned that students will surprise you. Their creativity, inspiration and dedication rival their adult counterparts. They are supportive of each other, fun to hang out with, and the kids who rise to the challenge are often those who seem the least likely. So, if you live in a smaller town and wish you had writers to talk to, check out your local middle and high schools. What you find there may just surprise you!
Special thanks to ISC English teacher, Kate Ribeiro, who has been my co-conspirator in our YWP events from the beginning and is still working on her own novel!