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.