nanorimo fail 2016By Sydney Kalnay, Training Specialist.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a five-time NaNoWriMo failure. Each year, I’ve gathered my notes, furiously scribbled an outline, and then…completely fallen apart by mid-month. But every year, I rush to re-register, to join the ranks of hopeful writers furiously making word count and making words count. Every year, I learn about how to write, how to manage my time, and how to become the writer I am meant to be.

National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo – is an annual, online writing event that runs the entire month of November, encouraging participants to complete a minimum of 50,000 words of a novel by the 11:59 PM deadline on November 30th. The project had humble beginnings, starting with only 21 participants in 1999 but has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon, boasting hundreds of thousands of members who create over 3 billion words each year. The goal of NaNo is not to create a perfect work but to complete the project – it’s the count that counts. Word count, that is.

When quantity wins over quality

And what a great lesson for your students: the idea that sometimes, you just need to get words on a page without overthinking; that sometimes, your work is better served by focusing on quantity over quality; that the very act of producing more work can lead to producing better work. When students focus too much on perfection, they can lose sight of what can best be learned by failing, by producing subpar drafts, by embracing the chaos of working with and against the clock simultaneously.

To attempt NaNo, you often have to remind yourself that the job of the first draft is simply to exist. When that rough, rough first draft is done and December rolls around (or January, or February—NaNo experts often recommend sticking your draft in a drawer for a month or two so you can shake off the glory and horror of those 30 days), there is plenty of time to pick back through your words, to discard and keep, to revisit and hone. Translate this to the classroom and students who struggle with the idea of first, edited, and final drafts have the freedom to simply let the words flow.

Or not. There’s a lot to be learned from sitting with the discomfort of writer’s block, and that’s where you, as an educator, can offer your support and expertise with prompts, pep talks, in-class exercises, and more. You don’t have to do it alone, either. The NaNoWriMo website is set up to encourage writers to meet their goals with motivation from the NaNo admins, from fellow writers, and from famous authors who’ve completed NaNo in the past. There is even a specific website experience for young writers, offering expert advice and tools for students interested in participating and who want a space of their. And of course the Young Writers website comes with an educator’s space, offering how-to guides, lesson plans, student workbooks, and classroom kits to help you help your students through the process.

NaNo success stories: some YA favorites

If your students give any push back about what can be accomplished in that short a time period, you can remind them that, among the 100-plus novels that began as NaNoWriMo projects and which have since been published successfully, some of their favorite titles appear, including Cinder (Marissa Meyer), Assassin’s Heart (Sarah Ahiers), and Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell). Given the freedom to write without limits, to be guided by the clock rather than the MLA Handbook, what might your students produce that could be more powerful than a perfect essay? Good habits, the power of push-through, and the possibility of failure in a safe and non-judgmental space.

Whether you are looking to introduce a month-long writing project as part of your lesson plans for the year or simply model good writing habits by participating yourself, National Novel Writing Month is a great place to get started. I’ll be rolling up my sleeves tomorrow to start writing my 1,667 words a day and if I fail? I still win. And so will you and your students.