By Shu Ye '18
National Novel Writing Month, often called NaNoWriMo, is an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. The project started in July 1999 with 21 participants. By the 2010 event, more than 200,000 people had chosen to take part and combined to write more than 2.8 billion words.
Participants need to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. NaNoWriMo focuses more on the length than the quality of the work, so it encourages participants to finish their first draft in just one month. Writers who join this activity are called Wrimos, and they can post profiles or other information about their novels on the NaNoWriMo website. Word counts are validated on the site, with writers submitting a copy of their novel for automatic counting.
This year, led by Ms. Anna Kavalauskas, all 12 students from the AP Language and Composition class are participating in a version of NaNoWriMo. "In this AP course, students explore how writers use the tools of language to achieve a purpose or transmit a message," said Ms. Kavalauskas. "Writers compose letters, speeches, official documents, essays, etc. to provoke thought and action, to relay their emotions, to make their readers laugh, cry, and understand a different perspective, to connect, to share information, to make a permanent record, to establish what is true and agreed upon, and more. Also, this course is designed to help students become informed and rhetorically competent writers who not only consider the views of others but use writing as a way to formulate and convey their own ideas. It is a composition course, after all. In studying and writing about these various text types, rhetorical modes, and purposes, it is also important for students to compose texts of their own. To that end, the class is completing a challenge inspired by NaNoWriMo and aiming to write their own 15,000-word novels during the month of November. I hope my students will learn to better understand the choices writers make."
Ms. Kavalauskas also wants her students to learn to manage their time by setting a precise plan of writing per day. It is important for students to learn how to combat test anxiety and put pen to paper and commit to an idea. With a word count this big, there isn't a lot of time to mull over details. And the most important reason for participation is simply celebrating writing since it is such a great opportunity for students to write without any restriction or fixed theme.
So far the project is going well even though the word count is challenging. "I like to compare writing 15,000 words to running a half marathon," said Ms. Kavalauskas said. Instead of joining the official NaNoWriMo, the class is in the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. They have a classroom on the program site, which is a companion site for educators, and Ms. Kavalauskas chose the word count of 15,000. She settled on a word count that she thought would be a) uncomfortable b) achievable and c) worthy of celebrating. Right now, most students are on track. Some students struggle to meet the word counts more than others, and they have strategized one-on-one with Ms. Kavalauskas. In class they discuss setting, plot, character development, and dialogue, and they read and analyze stories and texts about stories.
Cristina Cecilia Estevez '19 and Maria Veronica Ramos '19, two enthusiastic students, are very excited about this activity. As of November 28, Cristina had already exceeded the word count—penning 20,662 words even though Fall Academic Travel took away a few days of writing time. The actual plan is to write 500 words per day, and for Cristina, who loves creative writing and wants to do it as her profession, it is very easy and she can usually finish in 30 minutes. The discussions and analysis she has had in class have also helped her improve her storyline.
"This class's enthusiasm was even more impressive than I thought possible, and I am very proud of their commitment to this challenge."
– Ms. Anna Kavalauskas
According to Cristina, at the beginning of this activity, she thought 15,000 words were too much; however, as she has continued writing, she has found that it has gotten easier. When she has difficulties with writing, instead of sticking with one exact plan, she usually just sees where the story takes her. Cristina used to have a short version of her story, but she never got the chance to finish, and now NaNoWriMo provides a great opportunity for her to further expand it. She said that she wants to publish the novel after she finishes it. The project has helped her explore her creative side, and she enjoys the freedom of not having to write a structured essay.
Maria Veronica also thinks the activity is going great. As of November 28, she has 11,111 words. She does not necessarily follow the daily plan exactly—choosing instead to write whenever she has time. The biggest issue she is facing is that when she is writing, it is hard for her to stop even though she knows she has many other things to do. For example, one day she continuously wrote 3000 words and then realized that she also had to study for history.
Maria Veronica frankly said that the beginning was difficult, but she agreed with Cristina that when she continues writing, she becomes the writer and the reader of her novel, and writing becomes much easier. For her, NaNoWriMo is a therapeutic experience. Even though she knows that the project can be overwhelming, she believes that it makes her think about how much she can do in this restricted time. The novel she is writing is very meaningful to her. The characters are related to people in her real life, and she tries to raise the reader's awareness of some serious issues in today's society. She enjoys the feeling of getting away from essay writing, and she wants to keep writing with this passion.
Even with the regular heavy workload of school, AP Language and Composition students have loved this challenge and have combined to write 110,693 words as of noon on November 30. (They have until midnight to make their final submissions.) The word count may have seemed uncomfortable for many, but the students have learned that the assignment is about more than just the final number. As Maria Veronica said, "You might get stressed out, but when you are in your zone you just write and write and write, and as soon as you finish, you will know that this is what you want."
Ms. Kavalauskas feels that the inaugural attempt at NaNoWriMo was a major success. "This class's enthusiasm was even more impressive than I thought possible, and I am very proud of their commitment to this challenge," she said. "Despite their busy schedules, they quickly became consumed with their stories, and we spent many classes discussing the novel-writing process. The students learned their strengths and weaknesses as writers and are now able to approach reading from a different perspective. It has been fascinating to read what these students have created, and, although it can be scary, they enjoy sharing their stories with their classmates as well."
To that end, the class will be celebrating with a reading at Casa Fleming on Thursday, December 6, at 18:30. Coffee, tea, and desserts will be provided, and several students will read selections from their original works. "While the entire class approached the challenge with a good attitude, some really blossomed and say that they had been waiting for an opportunity like this one," said Ms. Kavalauskas. "They hope to be writers and publish, and I am glad they had this outlet. I am looking forward to running a NaNoWriMo challenge again next year."