Since 1999, the first of November has signified the start of National Novel Writing Month. The nonprofit organization, The Office of Letters and Light, sponsors this annual, 30-day challenge for writers all over the world to write 50,000 words by Nov. 30. Fifty thousand words is the generally accepted definition of a novel and this equates to writing 1,667 words a day. However, “There’s no rule about getting all of your writing done for the day in a single sitting. You can write in 10 minute bursts,” advises English teacher Matt Phillips. This year, over 300,000 people are expected to participate, and a small fraction of those participants will be Jamesville-Dewitt High School students. Mr. Phillips has decided to put aside his English 10 Honors and AP Language and Composition curriculum in favor of making National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) his student’s only assignment.
From a skeptical point of view, the idea of NaNoWriMo seems preposterous. How can anyone write an entire novel in a month? National Novel Writing Month is a personal undertaking whether someone is a New York Times Bestselling author or an ten year old, such as Mr. Phillips’ daughter, who wrote a 10,000 word “novel” via NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program.
November seems like a hectic month to host this event, with holidays such as Thanksgiving and Veterans Day to get in the way, as well as preparations for December’s business. However, this is the exact reason The Office of Letters and Light chose to host the event in this month. If one were to ask any professional novelist, they will say writing is about making the time, and by having the event in November, the organization has set out to prove that regardless of everything life may throw at someone, they are capable of writing a novel. It’s an entirely personal choice how much preparation a writer puts into the commitment before the clock strikes midnight on Nov. 1. Regardless of being a “pantser” (as in, to write by the seat of one’s pants) or “plotter,” the two classifications writers place themselves in, everyone participating has the same goal, and that is the reason NaNoWriMo exists.
Mr. Phillips has modified the rules of NaNoWriMo for his classes. He understands students have other commitments such as sports and clubs outside of doing homework for him, so to earn a 100 on the assignment, students only have to write 30,000 words. They will receive a 105 in the event of reaching 50,000 and an 85 for writing only 15,000 words. Despite this, his students have mixed feelings on the undertaking. “Technology is ubiquitous, and it allows people to write on phones, laptops, tablets, record their voices, or use your pen and paper. There is no excuse not to participate,” said Mr. Phillips.
In the past three years he has attempted the project, he has “won” every time, which by NaNoWriMo standards simply means reaching 50k. For those that believe National Novel Writing Month is “easy” for Phillips, he admits, “There are moments when I don’t feel like writing because it’s unpleasant and often times, the best stuff is painful when being written. But there’s something very fulfilling about the creative process and finishing and looking back on it after time has passed.
Don’t force yourself to think it has to be written in sequence. Look at what you have so far and fill in what you have skimped on. There are always gaps, alluded to conversations, subplots, and character development you have in your head but don’t have on the page. It’s just about words.”
The primary complaint from Phillips’ students concerns time. “It’s a heavy workload and I have to manage my time while playing basketball this [upcoming] season,” said sophomore Sahil Seth “If this was AP I would understand, but the work is cumulative. It’s the worst project I’ve ever had for school,” he said. On the other hand, his peer Ian Freezman likes the assignment. “It’s coming up with an idea that I have to run with that’s going to be hard,” said Freezman, “but I think it’s better than every day assignments and we’re just being graded on word count.”
Time was of concern to other English teachers as well. Courtney Romeiser teaches the the the other sections of AP Language and Composition. “It’s a great oppurtunity to offer them a daily or monthly goal because it’s hard for anyone to carve time out, and people produce more than they even realize,” said Ms. Romeiser. “Whether they love writing or not, it’s a pretty good deal. They can earn a major assessment grade with time they don’t normally get to write. It’s great if they take advantage of it on a bigger level independently outside of the classroom because that’s what education should do.” Joe Dechick also chimed in as teacher of the other honors level English classes. “I think it helps to motivate young writers to do what we all say we want to do but never make the time to do. Although I have not attempted it myself because I am extremely busy and intimidated by the process, it’s on my bucket list,” said Mr. DeChick.
Everything about NaNoWriMo is arbitrary. Fifty thousand is a nice number, 30 days is a time constraint, and no one is expected to produce a polished novel ready for Barnes and Noble by December. The idea of National Novel Writing Month is to make writing, a generally introverted activity, social. Whether someone reaches 50,000 or only writes 15,000 words the entire month, those are still words that never existed beforehand, and that is the beauty of it.
At its core, NaNoWriMo is supposed to encourage people to write on a daily basis and no matter how someone does, as long as they’re writing throughout November, they have succeeded. This will be my third year in a row participating in National Novel Writing Month and I have been successful the two previous years. In years past my goal has simply been reaching 50k and powering through the tough days when I didn’t want to write in order to finish. However, this year I want to finish the first draft I started in 2015.
Even if the particular writing session feels like nothing is working, as long as there is something, whether it is a line of dialogue or an interesting concept, to make me want to go back and revise, then it was worth it. I also try to take advantage of the social aspects of NaNoWriMo, like website forums and wordsprints on Twitter, as much as possible. This year especially, it will be nice to commiserate with my classmates over our word counts when we convene in English. I finished on Nov. 23 in both 2014 and 2015 and last year I only wrote 17 out of those 23 days. I found that those five days interspersed throughout the process were rejuvenating and I would advise taking breaks if current word count permits.
Rampage will be following various students’ progress throughout the month of November to report on their progress. The staff of Rampage wishes all participants the best of luck. Just remember to write like time is running out because for the month of November, it is.