Eighth graders participate in National Novel Writing Month for third year in a row
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
In 1999, freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 of his friends founded National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online creative writing project, taking place each year in November, that challenges writers to complete a novel in just 30 days. In 2005, the Young Writers Program (YWP) was founded in response to teachers looking to incorporate novels into their classes.
For the past three years, MFL MarMac’s Scott Boylen has been one such teacher. After hearing about the program while talking to other teachers online, Boylen thought it would be a good writing opportunity for his eighth grade language arts students.
“It’s not just a great way to tell and write a story, but to write period,” Boylen said. “It gives them an opportunity to write a great deal in a short amount of time. They learn as they go.”
For adults who take the NaNoWriMo challenge, the word count goal is 50,000, but young writers are able to set a “reasonable, yet challenging” word count. For Boylen’s class, that was 10,000 words, but many students chose to go above and beyond that mark. Sierra Wiabensohn set a goal of 15,000 words to tell the tale of an abused girl who eventually gets adopted. Friends Derek Larson and Mason Hertrampf, who both wrote about a zombie apocalypse, set goals of 12,000 and 15,000 words, respectively. Anjela Waterman set her sights on 20,000 words for her science fiction novel featuring aliens, world domination and chromosomes.
Of the 45 students who took up the challenge, 37 reached or exceeded their goal. Boylen said the numbers have gotten better each year. Although the novel-writing challenge is 30 days long, Boylen said the process took around six weeks. For the first two, students did a lot of pre-writing, planning and learning about what a novel is.
“It’s a huge commitment,” he said, “but it’s competitive and challenging and really engaging.”
The students went into the experience with an array of emotions—everything from fear to excitement.
“I didn’t think I could actually make it at first, but it got easier,” admitted Wiabensohn, who said she wrote a lot outside class, including every night.
“I thought it would be hard and that I wouldn’t be able to do it, but it was easy to start,” said Tori Kricke, who wrote about a girl who goes to a resort for the summer and hopes to make a lot of memories. “The end got hard because I ran out of words.”
While Hertrampf and Larson agreed that their zombie apocalypse idea made for an interesting and fairly easy story to write, Hertrampf said getting started was the hardest part, whereas Larson quipped that it was difficult to finish.
Waterman, who went into the experience with an interest in both writing and science, said she was excited, but also nervous, as she had never before written anything the size of a novel.
“The hardest part was keeping everything where it was understandable,” she said. “One chapter would be a day, then it would be the next week. You have to make everything so that it makes sense.”
Despite the long hours and nerves, the students admitted the experience was quite rewarding. Some even said they might try writing another novel at some point.
“I can’t just say it’s not something I can do,” Kricke said. “I really did it. I got it done. That tells a lot.”
“It shows that, if you have the right mindset, you can get things done,” agreed Hertrampf.
Larson joked that it has made typing easier.
The experience is also rewarding for Boylen, who has watched his students become authors. By reaching a minimum of 10,000 words, they even became eligible to get two to five copies of their novels printed for free.
“Writing 20 pages of anything is an accomplishment,” said Boylen, explaining that 10,000 words amounts to roughly that many pages. “It’s a big deal to me.”