Hello, everyone! I published this post originally on November 12, 2014, and it is still relevant today, so I am posting it again.
– Heather, 11/8/16
During National Novel Writing Month, millions of words are arranged and re-arranged to form novels of many genres. People fire up their device of choice, sharpen their pencils, buy a new pack of pens, or talk into their digital recorders as they pour their writer’s heart out onto the page. Some will never publish their novel – perhaps most will not – but that does not matter. The text will exist, and will join the canon of human experience nonetheless. The NaNoWriMo crew has been encouraging writers to create their novel since 1999 by challenging them to write 50,000 words in the month of November. One can only imagine how many novels are out there that remain unpublished. Personally, I have three, and am working on my fourth. For me, it has changed November from the month of early darkness to the month of limitless possibility. Perhaps it could do the same for you. Your novel is waiting to be written. What are you waiting for?
By the way, if you are thinking, “I have no idea what to write about,” Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, has a cure for that in the form of a book called No Plot? No Problem!
It’s already mid-November, Heather. It’s too late to start a novel now!
Time is relative and great ideas have no expiration date but still, I do apologize for not posting this earlier. I needed to devote all of my writing time to the novel until yesterday when I had a day off from work and could get far enough ahead in the word count to spend my normal writing time doing this post. The older I get, the more time flies. I had intended to post this weeks ago, but here I am writing this post on November 12th. Still, it’s not too late to start. In fact, many communities around the world have “write-ins” where folks gather to consume copious amounts of coffee and cookies while they plug away at their novel. In the Lehigh Valley this year, the “write-ins” are at the Parkland Community Library. I hope they have cookies … and coffee.
Get your students involved by writing a class novel
Since this is a blog about education more than it is about writing, it makes sense to mention that the NaNoWriMo crew have come up with the Young Writers Program that includes resources for educators who want to dedicate November to novel writing while still aligning their lessons to the Common Core. The lesson plans are well thought out and could prove to be incredibly useful; check out the 65-page plan for Middle School by clicking this link. The NaNoWriMo gurus also have a virtual classroom space you can set up to better organize this event for your students. This is a great idea for anyone who has adopted a blended learning classroom model (e.g., the flipped classroom).
Teachers, if you want to “kick it up a notch,” then I would suggest going cross-curricular with this unit. What are your students studying in Social Studies, Math, or Science class that you could use as the basis of the novel? For example, what about a historical fiction piece that starts in the same time period as that which the students are studying in Social Studies? Alternatively, if they are studying a geographic region or a culture, how about writing a novel set within that region or culture? Imagine what the kids could come up with by using a famous scientist as the main character of a novel, or a character who acts as a sage adviser to the main character. (It makes me giggle to think of Einstein as a main character’s sidekick!) Maybe the kids could come up with a fantastic plot that results in the first valid proof of the Pythagorean theorem. Ah, the drama!
Following through: Polishing the novel
People learn how to write effectively by reading good writing and by writing a lot of bad writing, then rewriting the bad writing to make it read better. Because practice does inch us closer to perfection, the editing process is a crucial experience for every writer. I would recommend spending a significant amount of time on editing the novel, for your students’ sake. They will learn that the art of good writing is something anyone can learn if they are willing to practice: draft, write, proofread, edit, rewrite, proofread, edit… you get the picture. My manager and my colleagues are fond of saying, “Every writer needs an editor,” because no matter how long we have considered ourselves writers, we all need to have someone review our work. When we write, we are often too close to the work to see all the mistakes. Editors see those mistakes straight away and can help us to untangle our linguistic knots and produce understandable and elegant prose. The editing process – when done correctly – is rigorous and demanding on everyone involved. It’s also a terrific collaborative-learning activity, and bound to engage the students. Once they have fallen in love with their characters (even the ones they hate) and their plot, students will want the novel to be well written, and will rely on one another to help them make it so.
Following through: Publishing the novel
Once the editing is done and a book cover has been created, publishing the novel is not as hard as it might sound. Today, self-publishing is very popular and there are many sites that will help you create that print or eBook from your manuscript. If you have a Mac, you can really publish the book yourself using iBooks Author. Alternatives to this program include FastPencil, Lulu, Writer’s Cafe, and Sigil, among many, many, many others. The old standbys – Word, OpenOffice Writer, Google Docs, Pages, and other word processing software will also do, but you will want the document to be secure, so I recommend converting these document files to PDF before sharing them. There are plenty of programs for that, including the one that started it all: Adobe Acrobat.
If you decide to try writing a novel this month, I wish you the best of luck and offer one piece of advice: Have fun while you’re working hard on the next great novel. If you take this into the classroom too, I offer you the same advice and ask you to reflect on the quality of learning you witnessed when kids were working hard while having fun.