A Novel Idea
Can Middle and Upper Schoolers write a book in one month? Can faculty and staff?
November is National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” as it is affectionately known by writers around the world. NaNoWriMo is also a nonprofit that provides tools, structure, community, and encouragement throughout this marathon of a month. And for Sidwell Friends 6th graders, NaNoWriMo is a launch pad for each to write their own short novel.
“The word-count goal for the adult program is 50,000 words, but we use the Young Writers Program, which allows students to set reasonable-but-challenging individual word-count goals,” says 6th grade teacher Becky Farnum. “NaNoWriMo takes a lot of hard work, but that only deepens the students’ investment in the writing process. Many feel more self-confident at the end and are proud to show off their own novel.”
It may seem like a daunting task, but the students were well-prepared. “NaNoWriMo allows students to examine real-word authors and their habits of writing,” says Farnum. “We spend October planning and learning about characters, plot, conflict, and different elements of novel-writing. In addition, the experience of taking on this ambitious project helps students develop skills of breaking things down into smaller and more achievable steps. Students get to be unlimited in their creativity.” For some, that was the best part. “I love all kinds of writing,” says Theo Scoblic ’29, “but with creative writing, you can just let your imagination go.”
The Middle Schoolers aren’t the only ones getting in on the act. Upper School writing support teacher and academic mentor Marina Ruben ran a voluntary NaNoWriMo program throughout the month for interested students, faculty, and staff. In addition to creating a spreadsheet for participants to keep track of their word counts and goals—complete with stickers and badges for milestones, such as “Weekend Warrior!” and “750 words!”—Ruben also joined writers every day in the library during lunch for communal writing sessions.
Gillian Vaswani ’26 was one of those writers. Vaswani says she loves working on her short story every day at lunch because it has been motivating and allowed her to get to know other students who also share a passion for writing. Ruben feels the same way. “While I love engaging with students about their academic work in my normal Sidwell role, NaNoWriMo is a chance to see what students—and faculty!—do with their self-directed creative energy,” she says. “The students inspire me with their willingness to carve out time to join a writing community. I also appreciate the chance to write alongside our NaNoWriMo’ers—their clicking keyboards motivate me to keep my own writing process moving!”
Upper Schoolers and staff are on their own now that November is ending. But over in the 6th grade, the young writers still have a mission: They will now turn into editors and then publishers until each one has a physical book to show off. “All the years I have done this, each novel is unique to each student,” says Farnum. “Students get to tell their own story and are rewarded by their own hard work to persevere through self-doubt.”
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