Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learning to Write: YNaNoWriMo

Over the past many years I've participated in something called NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's one of those quirky little things where I spend an entire year debating plots, naming characters, & devising my endings until the beloved month of November arrives. Yeah, I'm that nerdy.

I've met my goal each & ever year of 50,0000 words, all though once only by the skin of my teeth. Each year it's a struggle to confine characters into their places, & last years is still nagging at me. I generally see the project through to the end finishing off what I start, but last years has really given me a run. I have not been able to get the story where I want it to be. So there it sits, nagging away at me. But I'm getting incredibly side tracked here..

Recently, Morgan asked if I would help him write a story. I bought him an empty notebook & a fresh pen, because every good story deserves a fresh pen. I generally empty a pen or two if I write by hand, & it's kinda fun. Morgan was delighted with the purchases, & of course Jayden wanted some too. They both grabbed their notebooks, sat down, & then stared at me.

"Excuse me, do I have something on the end of my nose?"
"Then why, may I ask, are you staring at me?"
"We don't know what to do now!"

I took the notebooks back & wrote half a paragraph leaving off in the middle of a sentence, then I handed the notebooks back. They spent days writing in them. Everywhere we went their noses were in their notebooks. One afternoon we were at a cafe with my mother-in-law having lunch & the waitress asked them what they were doing.

"Just writing a story."
"Oo, what's it about, will you tell me? I love to hear stories?"
Jayden shrugged & said, "I'm not really sure yet, but it does have a boy named Johnny, & a rude frog in it."
"That sounds interesting! What about you?"
Morgan comes out of his momentary fog & says, "Well, it's about a shadow, but I don't know what else yet."

She checked in with them a few more times before we left & promised that if she found their books in stores she'd purchase them to find out more. The boys were delighted. Shortly after that, though, the noteobooks hit back burners until Mr S asked if I was going to do NaNo this year.

"I hope to, my story plan is coming along, but I'm not sure how good it is. I've fallen asleep 3 nights in a row thinking about it!"

The boys ran off to get their notebooks & join the chatter. Which of course led to them writing more, until Jayden wrote something in his notebook that caused him to laugh so hard he couldn't stop. This distracted Morgan who didn't feel his story was at all funny enough if Jayden was laughing that hard at his own.

I pointed out that not every story is meant to be funny, & even funny stories aren't always funny every minute. This didn't help much, & we eventually sent him off to his room to write in peace. Which worked rather well until Jayden, certain Morgan was sulking, drew a picture of Morgan's favourite stuffed animal.. with it's tongue out, & maybe something wafting from it's back end. He found this so funny he barged right in on Morgan & announced, "Look what I drew for you!" That was the end of their writing careers for a while.

Until, month after month Morgan continued to beg me to teach him to write. Why? I kept asking. So I can write great stories that people will love, was always the answer. I lamented to my mother one day, & instead of sympathizing with me she told me she was certain I could do it & do it well.

Here's the thing, I'm pretty sure if anything ever happens to me my family will rifle through my stuff. I do not, for one minute, think they will be looking for riches untold or dirty secrets on me, instead my family is going to rifle through my stuff hoping to stumble across something fantastic that I've written. True story. I've never shared what I've written, at least not much. I very, quite nearly, posted a bit of my Nano here from last year, but I had second thoughts about it & didn't.

I once took the first chapter of a Nano & edited it & bound it for Mr S. The chapter turned out to be too long for him & I'm not sure he ever got to the end of it. Of course my mother is desperate to read something I've written, my grandmother use to be, a niece has begged off special permission to read something, but it all remains locked in the depths of.. Ha! You thought I'd tell you where it was didn't you?

The point is, I wasn't so sure about teaching my own child how to write. It's funny, because I've never thought twice about teaching him to do many other things I'm very capable of, but this particular area freaked me out. My child is a bit like myself in the fact that he is utterly relentless & so he pestered on. Never rudely, but always very serious & intent. "Please, will you teach me to write a story? I can't figure out how to get the words on the paper, how to make worlds that seem real enough you're in them. I want to do this!"

I finally broke  & said I would teach him. Then I debated buying a curriculum for this purpose, but for now we're doing our own thing. We've started with the Young Nano Programme put out by the Office Of Lights, which is completely free. It's set up for teachers to use in classrooms to encourage young students to participate in the frenzy known as NaNo. The difference being that children can choose their word limit to meet, they are not bound by the 50,000 word goal.

Lesson #1 had us discussing inner editors. I explained the job of a real life editor, & I explained what can happen when your own personal inner editor is turned lose. I had to explain that this was different then, perhaps, your mother correcting your copywork or other writing assignment. Then I asked the boys what their inner editor says, their answers were a bit surprising. I jotted them all down & typed them up later {excuse the typos if you're looking closely at the pictures..}. Then we drew our inner editors.

I'm pretty sure that's exactly what Morgan looks like when he's writing. Stressed out that he isn't writing fast enough, distraught he might not be spelling correctly, & boggle eyed so badly he forgets his punctuation. Jayden's inner editor scares me, because frankly it looks like a happy me! Holding flowers. With big red lips, & rosy cheeks. He denies that it is, in anyway, like me. I'm still scared. Mine, on the other hand, despite being poorly drawn is nothing short of a beast who hovers over my back, drools on my work, & constantly whispers indecision in my ears. We chucked the whole lot of them in jail, & they can't come out until December.

Yeah, I know December is a pretty long ways away, but we have an international trip ahead of us, a camping trip, & a few other major things on the table in the months ahead. I figure starting now gives us plenty of time to help the boys plan out their stories, work on their typing skills, & get a few more spelling lessons under their belts. The only one mortified that the inner editors are locked up until December, though, was Jayden. I'm still scared, but considering he didn't ask how I'd make dinner I'm probably safe for a while.

We also discussed what the kids all ready knew about writing. Morgan's answers fully explain his inner editor. He's worried about neatness & spelling. He wants to use amazing punctuation, but forgets to. Jayden's answers might also explain his inner editor, because he was mostly just worried about how to make up new words. Yeah, really.

We also discussed what they really wanted to know about in regards to writing. This was fun to listen to. Morgan would tell me what he wanted to know & then explain it via a book we've read. Again, I took notes & then typed them into a KWL chart, for the fun of it. I'm more curious to see the L side filled in from their perspectives at the end of November.

I turned our bulletin board into a story map. The idea originally was meant to be a visual reminder of the things that it takes to make a novel/book/story. In the end though, I slapped up post-its on the thing because I knew the boys would come up with ideas at all kinds of awkward hours & it would be quick & simple to jot them on the lined post-its. I'm not saying that I'm not still scared, but Im starting to see this as more of an adventure then I did before.

I have a few ideas tucked up my sleeves, & we'll see if they work. I'm curious to see exactly what kind of story Morgan is so intent to write. I'm eager to see if he applies everything he's learned in the past 5 years of schooling. I'm excited to read his story, because he uses fantastic vocabulary when he writes. I'm interested in seeing how far Jayden follows this through. He's funny like that & his last story was one page long, because at that point the frog & Johnny got quite angry with each other. There was a whack with a tree & well.. The only thing is, of course, when we get to December the boys are going to what to view what I've read, & I wasn't planning to write a children's book....

Notes: If you're looking for the lessons over at the Young Nano site, you'll need to click on the Educator's Resources. It'll explain how Young Nano works as well as provide you with ideas for 17+ lessons, an after party, & encouraging your kids to keep on writing during the month of November. There is a printable version of the Teacher's Lessons as well as the online version. The Teacher's Info will explain when/how to use the Student pages/book that is provided for free download as well. There are resources/lessons for Younger Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, & Highschool. You'll also find certificates to award after the goals are met, in fact there's even certificates available for children who participated, but weren't quite capable of meeting their goal in the end. There's information on having your children's book published, t-shirts to purchase, & so much more. Think you can't stop your normal writing lessons for something like this? Check out the core standards the Nano lessons deal with. Seriously, Nano is an incredibly fun & amazing thing to participate in, even if you're the only one having an all night writing session..

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