Beginning with the first day of school, I prepare my students for National Novel Writing Month, which is also known as Nanowrimo. For those unfamiliar with Nanowrimo, I’ll take a minute to explain. During the month of November, authors new and seasoned, around the world focus on completing a novel. They have thirty days to write 50,000 words. The school-age authors set their own goals.
In August, I tell my students the project is coming.
The students that have been in our district know about Nanowrimo and look forward to it. They clap loudly, gasp in delight, fist pump their silent enthusiasm. Then I lose control of the room for a couple of minutes to their enthusiastic chatter.
The one consistency that pervades the atmosphere in our classroom is: “I’m writing about…” The freedom to express what they want with support is a giddying experience for all of us.
Getting them there starts with incremental mini-lessons.
Writing Starts on Day One
Growing confidence in writing begins on day one. We start by making lists of things they like, things they don’t like, things they want to know. In the days to come, I’ll add awkward moments, happy moments, until they have pages of materials for scenes, visuals, twists, and all the good stuff that makes stories fun.
In addition to the list, I assign a page a day. Three days a week my students write whatever they want. There is a bonus. If it fits with an assigned writing, they are allowed to use it.
The Questions from Beginning Novelists
Because it is the first day of school, everyone is enthusiastic about homework. The next day, I have stacks of composition books filled with writing samples. Then, the questions pour in.
“Is it okay that I was one line short?”
“Is it okay If I wrote in first-person point of view?”
“Is it okay that I wrote about something that includes situations from real life? I mean, it didn’t happen but it could.”
Do you see the pattern? They are asking the questions all authors ask. I tell them as much. Authors ask themselves if they’re doing it right? Then they ask other authors.
What is really fun is how their eyes bug out when I add, “When we’re done that one page will turn to three.”
“Your people are naked and floating around an empty room.” I quickly add, “In the first draft you are telling yourself the story. From there you take your readers into consideration.”
They give me wipe the brow in relief smile and echo my statement. “The first draft I’m telling
myself the story.”
The First Writing Lesson
This first lesson is simple, yet vital. In the first draft, you are compressing a world onto a piece of paper. Just like the groceries we buy for a Thanksgiving dinner, things are going to get left behind. We’ll have a chance to go back and add them to the metaphorical writing table.
In subsequent posts, I’ll share the lessons. The lessons are bite-sized and meant to build confidence in the hesitant author. I have found they are a great tool for the season writers in the room, as well.