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National Novel Writing Month

November 1, 2009

Stanley Fish recently wrote a short blog series on what colleges should teach in writing classes and it got me thinking about what our public schools should be teaching in writing classes as well.  Then I remembered that they don’t teach writing.  Or, if they do, it is part of a smooshed together curricular process of authentic learning. The conjunction-junctions of my childhood are long gone and the structure of grammar and formal composition which so many gifted kids yearn for in the regular classroom simply doesn’t exist. In fact, a friend and master teacher once complained to me that students learn more about sentence structure in foreign language class than they ever do in the study of English.   Composition and grammar are the brushes and tubes of paint an artist uses to create: the artist must, at some point, grasp the function of the tools he or she employs in the process of creating.  The ability to turn a phrase, parry a pun, develop an alliterative line, create rhythm and form – these are the tools of the craft of writing.  And, as Fish says, “writing is its own subject, and a deeper and more fascinating one than the content it makes available.”

November is National Novel Writing Month – at least according to the folks at NaNoWriMo – and I have dithered in a sea of “desire to write and tasks to complete” which have left me unable to officially commit to it this year. But the basic premise of the exercise is very compelling – “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.” Give yourself a large word count goal each day during the month of November and let your creative muse perch on your shoulder untethered to revisions or edits. Simply let the words flow and create.

There is a young writers component to this as well:

“National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writers Program provides kids and teens with a month-long language arts experience that improves self-esteem, teaches perseverance, and radically alters their relationship to writing and literature.

We do this through a youth-oriented website where kids and teens can mingle with other budding authors, get advice from beloved writers, and find inspiration as they tackle our book-writing challenge. And we do it through free, fun curriculum and lesson plans for K-12 teachers facilitating the Young Writers Program in their classrooms.

In 2008, over 20,000 kids and teens in 600 classrooms worldwide took part in National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writers Program. In 2009, we’re expecting over 1,000 classrooms to spend November bookin’ with us.”

Lifting the velvet rope and stepping inside the room has huge benefits: as a way to encourage expression in written form and explore individual creativity which is limitless in scope; as a touchstone to help battle blank page syndrome in the future; and as a compositional exercise with long term opportunities to teach grammar and form through later revisions.

NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program gives schools an opportunity to embrace a collaborative on-line learning environment where students can progress at their own pace. Guided learning through coaches, admired professionals, masters of the craft and an international cast of fellow students creates a very large studio. And so many opportunities to teach composition, editing and craft exist from December on. For so many writers young and old, it’s simply the impetus to begin.




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