“I hate writing, I love having written.”
— author Dorothy Parker
The clock is ticking for freshmen at Life Christian Academy in Tacoma, who have until one second before the stroke of midnight Friday to finish their novels.
Their literary efforts are part of National Novel Writing Month – dubbed NaNoWriMo by its creators. The goal is to write a complete novel in 30 days and submit it to the contest online.
While adult writers are held to a 50,000-word minimum, Life Christian students are participating in the Young Writers Program, which allows them to set their own word-count goal. Collectively, teacher Danielle Graham’s 40 freshmen are aiming for nearly 900,000 words.
One has set a personal goal at the 50,000-word mark. Finishers who meet their goals will each receive five paperback copies of their book.
“They’re loving it now,” says Graham, who rewards her young authors’ daily progress with classroom recognition, applause and, occasionally, chocolate.
“You should have seen the looks on their faces the day I revealed it,” Graham says, remembering when she told students about their ambitious assignment. “They thought I was the most evil person ever. ”
Students have forgiven her. Now, they are hard at work spinning tales of zombies, international intrigue and teenage angst.
Tyler Miller’s story focuses on a retired CIA agent whose friend is suspected of stealing from the Italian treasury. With more than 20,000 words written, he’s at over 60 percent of his goal.
Novel writing is different from writing school essays, he explains.
“You don’t have to follow guidelines to create your own story,” he says. “It’s different. It’s your own.”
Shirley Hope Mayanja is writing a family drama about an orphaned girl who discovers a sister she never knew she had.
Her source of inspiration?
“I think I watch way too many movies like this,” she says. “I love drama.”
One of Cole Curry’s main characters is a boy who has lived a hard life. He ends up disappearing after a fight with a friend.
“It’s a mystery,” he says. “I’m making things up as I go. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Amelia Villegas is working on her second novel.
“I tried to write a book in fifth grade,” she says. She’s still working on that one.
But for Graham’s class, Villegas has come up with a new story about three young people who find special rings that allow them to travel through time. While many students say they are saving the title of their story for last, Villegas has a working title for her novel. She wants to call it “Time Diamonds” – in German, after one of her German-speaking characters. But she doesn’t speak German, so she’ll have to look up how to spell her book title.
NaNoWriMo began in 1999, founded by freelance writer Chris Baty and 20 friends. By 2011, there were more than 250,000 writers involved worldwide.
Graham got the idea to have her students participate while reading an online blog for teachers. At first, she thought there was no way her freshmen would be able to write a novel — much less under such a tight deadline. But after some thought, she changed her mind.
“I was looking for an authentic writing experience,” Graham says. “I thought it would be a perfect challenge. There would be a huge sense of accomplishment when they’re finished.”
Students write during class time, and at home. They log their progress on a secure Web page provided by NaNoWriMo. The site also features a blog with helpful tips on things such as overcoming writer’s block. Teachers receive a free curriculum guide to help them coach students through the novel-writing process.
Graham’s students are writing on online documents they share with their teacher. Graham has told students she is spot-checking their work daily, but won’t be able to read every novel word for word.
“It’s fun to see them working on their own at home,” she says. “Sometimes I catch them writing and it’s 9 o’clock at night.”
Students also love to tease her about her own lack of progress. Graham has joined her students in the NaNoWriMo challenge, but with just over a week to go, the working mom is at only 23 percent of her goal.
Students write on laptops, either their own or a school-supplied device. One student updated his novel during a long wait in a doctor’s office, while another wrote part of it on her smartphone.
Just before the Thanksgiving break, students were hard at work in the classroom, hammering out their stories. Graham plays jazz, techno or classical music to help students get in the groove.
She urged students to keep writing over the long holiday weekend.
“The next time I see you, 85 percent (of your goal) will be a good place to be,” she told them.
But one boy said he can beat that.
“I’m going to be at 90 percent,” he promised.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
National Novel Writing Month
Young Writers Program: