Students recently drafted their reflections about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I wrote beside them about the lessons that I had learned. Here they are:
- Limit the other work you give. While you may feel the pressure to have copious assignments in your grade book (there tends to be a sort of teacher shaming if you don't have many assignments in, as if there is a magical number), you have to recognize what is valuable and what is not, especially during the 30-day writing frenzy that NaNoWriMo is. I tried to make every assignment relevant for the month and their novels. Students encountered "daily challenges" (these quickly turned into every-other-day challenges) that focused on many of the necessary elements to good novels: dialogue, story world development, character creation, subplots, etc. Everything was designed so that students could use their work in their novels, and it allowed me to have short glimpses of the types of things they were writing about.
- Quantity matters more than quality when it comes to drafting habits. I've always thought of myself as more of a reader than a writer, but that really started to change with NaNo. That also meant that I had to turn off my inner critic and stop hitting the darn backspace button. I even did that again and again during this post. It was so hard to turn off that habit--and I still am working toward it. Part of it was the feeling of neglect when I saw the red squiggly reminder that something was not "right" with my writing. I think I am going to try to find a way to turn this off for students' sakes and for my own next year, so that we can just focus on the writing itself.
- Give as much time as possible. I found this out through my own 50,000-word challenge. By trying to confer with writers during class as much as possible, most of my writing (1,667 words per day to stay on track!) had to be done before school, during lunch, or at home. I felt the pressure that many of my students without a lot of writing stamina felt. I felt like I was always behind and that I would never catch up. Some days I would try to write two times by goal to buy a little extra word cushion for the next day.
- It's okay to make time to celebrate and for camaraderie! I spaced out a few "rewards" during the month, but it was not nearly enough. I gave out the NaNo buttons and stickers, which students really did appreciate! Next year, I know to plan a few more events to celebrate their successes and reward their really hard work. I honestly have never seen students write in such powerful sprints as I have during NaNo, and that should be rewarded. It isn't every day or in every class that they are asked to write more than some have written in formal essays throughout their entire high school career.
- Share your challenges. One of the things that I appreciated most was the solicitation of feedback from students. I began by modeling this when I asked students to help me develop ways that teenagers get back at each other, particularly two teens that just broke up. My classroom became a space where writers could crowdsource ideas when they were struggling or experiencing writer's block. And by sharing my own challenges and exploration, students became much more likely to talk about what they were experiencing and what they needed.
- Revise #2: ORIGINAL quantity matters more than quality. I noticed toward the end that a couple of students were incorporating other writers' work into their own just for word count. While quantity does matter, it should not come at the expense of originality or plagiarism. Next year, I know to address this head on. I would much rather a student take another day to add words to his or her count than I would have them resort to outright stealing another person's work. I take partial responsibility for this. I know that the pressure to meet the word goal could have led to this.
All in all, this was a positive experience for me. In their reflections, students have admitted to knowing characters better than some of their friends and writing more than they have ever done. For that alone, I am incredibly proud of their hard work and dedication.