This post, by Art Peterson, originally appeared on The National Writing Project site on 5/12/11.
Summary: The National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writers Program makes writing fun for students because of, not despite, its audacious goal: kids must pen a novel in a month.
Most teachers assign novels for students to read not write. But many teachers nationwide are not only asking students to read novels but also giving them a month to write them.
Yes, you read that right: one month.
Instead of complaining about being absurdly overworked, students participating in November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) have been known to ask, "Can we work on our novels today?"
That’s because, above all, NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun. An exercise in "seat-of-your-pants" novel writing, it has almost no rules.
The Office of Letters and Light, the nonprofit behind the event, believes this carefree approach encourages writers to take imaginative risks and truly enjoy their work. Founded in 1999, the adult version of the event requires only that you commit yourself to taking a stab at novel writing—and submitting a novel of 50,000 words, no matter how good or bad they are, by the end of November.
Since 2005, NaNoWriMo has entered many classrooms, including those of National Writing Project teachers, through its Young Writers Program. In addition to curriculum and support, teachers receive a classroom kit featuring a progress chart, stickers to mark word counts, and buttons for writers who cross the finish line.
Approximately 1,800 classrooms and 45,000 kids and teens participated in 2010. The rules for under-18 writers are the same as those for adults, with one important exception: young writers can pick their own "reasonable yet challenging" word length.
If a student elects to write, say, 18,000 words and achieves this goal in a month, he or she is a winner. Awards include a "handsome winner’s certificate," a Web badge, and a promotional code to receive a free bound proof copy of the finished novel.
The Young Writers Program also facilitates Script Frenzy, a similar scriptwriting event that happens each April and challenges participants to write a 100-page script in 30 days.
While young writers work primarily as individuals, teachers are also encouraged to write along with them—an approach at the heart of NWP’s philosophy.