I used to fancy myself a writer who happened to teach. Then, at some point, I became a teacher who wrote. I owe my adult love of writing to a great teacher named Mr. Beaver, who pulled some strings to allow me to enroll in his high school comp class. Mr. Beaver was a skilled teacher that knew how to pull meanings out of all kinds of text; he introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut and Holden Caulfield and once edited a childish 30-page manuscript that I wrote about robots. The fact that he tolerated such base work was astounding enough. But he was nearly blind from macular degeneration and edited the whole thing through a jeweler’s eyepiece. That was the real unbelievable thing. He was a football coach who called plays by watching them an inch away from a TV screen, played golf religiously, and once scored a documented hole-in-one. These facts only added to my belief that I learned my letters from a very unique man.
I will never forget his advice when it came to writing. I had complained that my writing wasn’t very good. He told me that sometimes it was “quantity, not quality” that developed a writing style. I remembered his words a few years ago when I entered myself into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an online event held to get people writing quantity, not quality. The rules are simple: write 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th. Sadly, I failed miserably. I only managed to get out about 25,000 in that month of lesson plans, grading, and standardized testing. But I did get to thinking that the project would make a great project for my students, if the word count were not so unbelievably high.
Last week, when November 1st rolled around, I mentioned my failed attempt to meet the 50K mark to my students as they were struggling to write double-nickel stories (stories that contain exactly 55 words). I went to the site to show them what hard looked like. There have been some updates to the site lately, and to my surprise I found that NaNoWriMo had developed a fantastic youth writing project. The youth program has contests for students from elementary to high school and provides a great handbook for young writers on starting, developing, editing, and completing a novel. And, thankfully the program allows students to set their own writing goals, giving them tips in the book on how to stay motivated through the month-long writing process. While it may have been too late for my students this year, I can see it becoming an annual project for my class, and hopefully a few will catch the bug like I did.