Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's NaNoWriMo Time! (Nurturing the Young Writer)

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. Not only do you need to have a good story, you need the discipline to sit down and crank out the 50,000+ words necessary to deem a manuscript "book length."

The folks at the National Novel Writing Month Campaign, or NaNoWriMo for short, can't help you with the plot or characters. But they can help you with the discipline part. Every year, they challenge writers to pen a novel in the 30 days of November. That comes out to about 2,000 words a day (if you take Sundays and Thanksgiving off).

Now, if you've ever tried to write 2,000 words a day for a long period of time, you'll understand a certain reality of this pace: the quality of many of those words will be low. Not just a little low. We're talking way down low, sweet chariot low.

But you know what? That's OK. I can say from personal experience that getting the basic draft of a book down on paper is the tough part. Revising can be done in shorter spurts; chiseling away at a sculpture feels far more doable when you have raw material to chisel. Whenever I'm trying to write fiction, I force myself to spend a certain amount of time every day just writing the words out longhand. Then, by the time I type them, everything has taken more shape in my mind and it's already a second draft.

I'm trying to secure an interview with someone from the Young Writers Program part of NaNoWriMo, which so far has not happened. When it does, I'll post an update. But in the meantime, this is the gist of my post: I think NaNoWriMo is a great way to challenge a budding young writer.

Here's why. First, many gifted young people are prone to perfectionism. They worry whether every answer is right, or if the story is as good as it could be. At times, this can be paralyzing. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is that your draft is supposed to be atrocious. How can it not be? Almost no novels are polished to perfection in 30 days. Yours won't be either. The young writer need not show the content to anyone. All she has to do is verify the word count.

And here's the second part: As we've talked about before on this blog, people in general (and I suspect gifted, creative people in particular) are happiest when they throw themselves into something difficult, and then, finally, achieve it. You lose yourself in the flow. You stretch your brain. You stop worrying so much about the silliness of school and the institutions of our daily lives.

There is still time to register your young writer at the official NaNoWriMo site, or you can just do your own NaNoWriMo at home, writing down the word count every evening. Maybe you could do it alongside your child (ever thought you had a novel in you? If the stories I hear at cocktail parties are true, everyone does!) In the next few days, you can spend some time creating a plot outline, sketching out the characters, and so forth. Or you can just dive in on Saturday. As the official NaNoWriMo motto goes, no plot, no problem. It will come to you. And if you give yourself a month, you'll be amazed at what you can do.


Anonymous said...

On, you can set your own word goals. So, kids don't have to do the full 50,000.

You could set a 500 word goal for your 5 year old or whatever seems reasonable.

My daughter actually has 3 accounts so that she can have different goals in English, French, and Spanish.

There are lots of kids who are into reading and writing who hang out on the NaNoWriMo forums all year long.

Sign up now and get 12 months of benefits!

Sandra Foyt said...

Last year I had to beg my kids to sign up for NaNoWrimo. This year my 9-year-old son & 12-year-old daughter can't wait to get started!

Our product wasn't so great, but the process of making time for daily writing has inspired us all year long. It's a fabulous opportunity for personal growth.

I highly recommend NaNoWrimo! Love it!

Anonymous said...

I first heard of Nano Wrimo last year,but it was past November when I came across the information. Several of my students thought it sounded interesting, crazy, and fun. This year, as part of my GT programming options, I have students in 5 schools signed up and on board. Today, a student writer in grade 6 came to school eager for me to see her progress. She did say she had to quiet the inner editor several times during the weekend because she sees herself as a perfectionist. I see this as an exciting journey of self discovery for my students. it is exciting for me to cheer them on not knowing how the journey will turn out or where it will take us! This student is in 6th grade and I've worked with her for the past three years. She would be happy to answer interview questions about her experience through Nano Wrimo if you still need a student for your research.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a zillion years late on this one, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. I don't know how much of her work would appeal to Laura or the readers of this blog, but Jodi Piccoult has accomplished a lot in terms of commercial success and her work is well respected.

She emphasizes how important it is to continue writing no matter how bad on that first draft on her FAQ.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a writer?

DO IT. Many people have a novel inside them, but most don't bother to get it out. Writing is grunt work - you need to have self-motivation, perseverance, and faith… talent is the smallest part of it (one need only read some of the titles on the NYT Bestseller list to see that… :) If you don't believe in yourself, and you don't have the fortitude to make that dream happen, why should the hotshots in the publishing world take a chance on you? I don't believe that you need an MFA to be a writer, but I do think you need to take some good workshops. These are often offered through writer's groups or community colleges. You need to learn to write on demand, and to get critiqued without flinching. When someone can rip your work to shreds without it feeling as though your arm has been hacked off, you're ready to send your novel off to an agent. There's no magic way to get one of those - it took me longer to find my wonderful agent than it did to get published! I suggest the Literary Marketplace, or another library reference material. Keep sending out your work and don't get discouraged when it comes back from an agent - just send it out to a different one. Attend signings/lectures by authors, and in your free time, read read read. All of this will make you a better writer. And – here’s a critical part – when you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and THEN go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end.