my story in typewriter

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass.

Are your students being stretched; made to believe, like Alice, in the impossible? When was the last time you inspired them to believe that, through perseverance and hard work, they can achieve almost anything?

How about writing a novel?

It’s certainly true that everyone – including your students – has a certain quantity of bad writing in them. The only way to get rid of it is to purge it. Sometimes, we all need a bit of a push to get us started; blank page syndrome is a disease that kills good stories before they’re even born. It’s only by forcing ourselves to write that we can skim the black, tar-like surface of our imagination and reach the delicious centre.

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) was created to help people achieve their long-term writing goals. Participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words of their project (usually a novel) across the 30 days of November. Last year, 351,489 people took part in the novel-writing challenge. Amazingly, there were also over 80,000 participants in the NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Programme.

Two years ago, I tackled this behemoth of a challenge, and actually managed to beat it. Looking back at the draft I produced, I’m not particularly proud of it. If you asked to see it, I’d probably have to think of some elaborate excuse to stop you. Maybe my computer exploded in a freak industrial accident, or my cat ate the printed draft. In actuality, I wouldn’t let my cat even sneak a peek at it. It’s terrible.

I skimmed the surface of my imagination, only to discover that the black tar went deeper – much deeper – than I had expected. Plot holes, dodgy metaphors, and painfully strained dialogue are all things that can be fixed during the editing process, but there’s no easy fix for a bad story. If my work was ever going to be immortalised in print, I would have to throw out everything I had written; I would have to start all over again.

Everyone has a certain quantity of bad writing in them.

This month, I’ve decided to do exactly that. I’m currently 35,090 words deep and, so far, I’m actually proud of the universe and the characters that I’ve created.

Why tackle it
Why? Why would anyone even consider trying to tackle such an insane, unachievable task? By my own admission, I’ve written an unsalvageable novel during NaNoWriMo. If you’ve nothing to show at the end of the month, what’s the point of participating? And if you’re not willing to do it yourself, why would you recommend it to a class full of children?

Well, I think that even in my case, where I’ve produced a festering pile of words, there are myriad benefits. I’ve always suffered from blank page syndrome – the inability to actually get started on a project. Most of my work existed in daydreams and shower thoughts; any time I actually built up the nerve to start something, I would immediately hate whatever I had written. NaNoWriMo gave me the drive to actually chuck the words down on a page. Think about how many times you’ve seen a student give up on a task before they’ve truly started. Wouldn’t it be an incredible confidence boost for any young person to know what they’re truly capable of achieving if they set their mind to it?

Unless they are exceptionally gifted and have an inhuman amount of drive and focus, you can’t expect a young student to reach the lofty heights of 50,000 words. To combat this, the NaNoWriMo Young Writers’ Programme allows children up to the age of 17 to set their own goals and word counts, and encourages them at every step of the way. I’ll be writing more about the Young Writers’ Programme in the final part of this blog.

For me, the main takeaway from my previous NaNoWriMo efforts isn’t the manuscript I produced – it’s the lessons I learned, and the knowledge that I have the tenacity to achieve something that, at first, seemed truly impossible.

I wish I could have had that insight as a child.

This is part one of a four part series. Next week, I’ll go into further detail and outline my essential NaNoWriMo survival skills.

Are you considering giving NaNoWriMo a go? Have you already taken part in NaNoWriMo, and have a story to share? Let us know by commenting below, or getting in touch with us on social media.

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