Tim Skeval and AJ Ortega
Staff Writer and Assistant Editor of Production
On Nov. 1, Jamesville-DeWitt High School students of english teacher Matt Phillips took off on a month long journey of struggle and creativity. Mr. Phillips tasked his students to write a 30,000 word novel for National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a 30-day writing challenge from non profit organization, The Office of Letters and Light, that challenges writers to write a 50,000 word novel by midnight on Nov. 30.
Mr. Phillips has known about NaNoWriMo for “a few years” and has had “a couple individual student participate” and he himself has participated in past years. Mr. Philips has heard that NaNoWriMo has helped kids increase the speed at which they can produce writing pieces. “I have found that kids tend to start things and then not finish them later on and this helps with that because you can't back out of this,” said Mr. Phillips, “you have to keep pushing forward, even when you want to quit you have to keep pushing forward.”
Students had mixed feelings about the assignment when Mr. Phillips originally told them about it. “There was an initial sticker shocks (from the students) when the assignment was first given so there was a lot of resistance there,” said Mr. Phillips. As time went on, the biggest complaint was “time” and “when students could make the time to work on it.” Athletes-in-season especially struggled with juggling school work and their sport along with this now on top of it all.
After doing data collections Mr. Phillips found out that some students overcame their problems and learned to manage their time. Students didn't have to sit down and write the whole thing all at once, they were aloud to write however much they wanted whenever they wanted. “Some of those complaints dissipated as the month went on,” said Mr. Phillips. After conducting anonymous surveys after the assignment was over, Mr. Phillips discovered that many students had in fact learned something from the assignment even though they may not have enjoyed it. “I think they were a bit more truthful because it was was anonymous,” said Mr. Phillips, “a majority of students identified what they got out of it, a number were surprised at how their story turned out. They thought it would end up one way but it would go in a completely different direction.”
Students word counts ranged anywhere from 10,000 words to 50,000 words. “My novel turned out to be 30,000 words long,” said sophomore Annika Tyson. Some students actually enjoyed the assignment and said they would do it again. “It was difficult to start the book off, but once I got it started, things just clicked,” said sophomore Olivia Budelmann, who ended up meeting and surpassing the goal by writing 50,100 words. Students at J-DHS overcame stress and writer's block to complete a once “impossible” feat.