I Won NaNoWriMo!

Winner!I posted this on my book blog, but I don’t necessarily have the same readers on each site. I am so excited because yesterday I validated my novel, and I wrote over 50,000 words during the month of November. The story is not finished yet, and in case you care, I tried a new genre (chick lit). I usually stick to historical fiction of some kind.

I learned some interesting things about myself as a writer as a result of participating in NaNoWriMo.

First, even though I have “won” NaNoWriMo before, it doesn’t feel any less fantastic to win again. In fact, it might feel even better to win again because I feel reassured that the first time wasn’t a fluke. I really am a writer. I really could write novels if I keep at it. After I wrote my first book, I didn’t try to write another one for years. I was a little worried all I had in me was one. I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2006, and I didn’t come close to winning. My story never truly gelled, but I did create a character for that novel who sort of sits in a corner of my mind, tapping her foot impatiently, waiting for me to do something with her. The first time I won was in 2009. I still haven’t edited that novel. I didn’t win last year. I fell behind at NCTE, and I never did catch up again after that. I had over 30,000 words, and it was frustrating to lose, particularly because I thought (and still think) the idea behind that novel was pretty good.

It’s weird that when you create characters they become like real people in your mind. For my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, I created a protagonist named Imogen Medley, a girl who lived in the mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky during the Great Depression. She is completely real to me in many ways. I had the rest of her life planned out, even though there was no occasion to show it in the novel. I know, for instance, that she grew up to become one of the first woman judges in her neck of the woods, a calling prompted by an injustice she witnesses during the course of my novel.

A second thing I learned about myself is that the large amount of writing I’ve been doing this year, mostly on my reading blog, has made me a faster, more fluent writer. I know that we writing teachers tell students that they will become faster, better, and more fluent writers if they just practice it more, but I’m not sure I ever noticed a measurable difference in my own practice until this year. I rarely had a problem reaching the daily word count of 1,667 words (except some days I skipped while at NCTE). Many days, I was able to write over 2,000 words. That last day, I wrote over 2,800 words. I was stuck one day, so I just started writing about being stuck, and eventually, I was writing my story again.

When I wrote my first book, I had this massive notebook with all my research. For my 2009 NaNo novel, I put a bunch of research into a program called Curio, but it was clunky to flip back and forth between my research and my writing. This year, I used Scrivener, and I found that having all my research and my writing in one place made me more productive. We should teach our students to try out a variety of tools until they find the ones that work for them. I think we all have trouble with finding the right tools sometimes, and the right tools can make a huge difference in our ability to succeed. I think I won NaNo this year partly because I found a tool that helped me work better and smarter than any other tools I’ve used in the past.

Another interesting thing that I noticed (not so much learned, I guess) is that I seem to like to write dialogue. I worry that my stories have too much dialogue and not enough description, but I like to hear my characters talk. I know dialogue can be tough for some people to write, but I think if you listen a lot, your dialogue will sound more natural. It goes without saying that reading other writers will also help you shore up weaknesses in your own writing. You have models for good dialogue, good description, tight plotting, characterization, and beautiful language if you read a lot. I have also been doing a lot of reading. This year, I’ve read 45 books. I am trying to make it an even 50 before the year is out. I know writing was easier for me this time because of all the reading I’ve done.

I know some writers look down on NaNoWriMo because they feel it encourages sloppy, quick, poor writing. I think some people need the pressure of a deadline to get their words down the paper, and NaNoWriMo is becoming my favorite way to start a novel. I think most people who participate realize their novels aren’t publishable on December 1. In fact, they’re likely not even finished. There may be some misguided individuals who don’t understand that revision is where the real work happens, but they’ll probably eventually be disabused of their confusion (one way or another). Another criticism I hear is that it’s unnecessary: true writers will write whether there is an event scheduled around drafting 50,000 words or not. Perhaps. But I do know that writing along with a community and receiving the moral support of NaNoWriMo has encouraged me. Maybe others don’t need that encouragement, but writing can be solitary. It helps to know you’re not alone.

The most important thing was how much fun I had this time. It was hard work—no doubt about that—but I enjoyed it the whole time, even on days when I had to make myself write because I didn’t think I wanted to.

Good luck to those NaNo participants heading into the home stretch tonight.

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ITMA Portfolio

After about a year, I have finally edited my portfolio from the Instructional Technology master’s program at Virginia Tech. I needed to redirect a lot of links in order to make sure everything functioned. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in that sort of thing. A link to it has a permanent home in my left sidebar under Links.

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Post-NCTE Reflections

Having had a little bit of time to reflect on my trip to the NCTE convention in Chicago, I wanted to talk about some of the highlights for me.

Personal highlights:

  • My presentation with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse. Loved working with you ladies, and especially loved celebrating your birthday Saturday night, Glenda. Also appreciated those of you who gave me the positive feedback after the presentation.
  • Meeting Joe Scotese. We’ve been friends for years, but we had never actually seen each other face-to-face.
  • Meeting and having great dinner and conversation with Meenoo Rami and her college friend and college friend’s co-worker (and Glenda!). Loved it! The pizza was excellent.
  • Going to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was right across the street from the Palmer House, and after my presentation I needed to decompress. There is absolutely nothing in the world like seeing those paintings up close.
  • Forging deeper connections with Georgia folks like Kirstie Knighton, Karen Mitcham, and Kathleen McKenzie (Kathleen, I’m looking forward to being more involved with GCTE).
  • As always, reconnecting with the Folger group. I loved working the booth with them on Sunday and meeting up at the Chicago Shakespeare on Friday night (Mike, you let me know when you are starting up that school).
  • Meeting Ryan Goble and Richard Beach in the same session. Ryan’s mom is the coolest.

“Smart” Things I Did:

  • Visiting the art museum. Sure, I missed a ton of good sessions that day, and I’m hoping to find at least some of them on the Connected Community or elsewhere, but really, it was so worth it to see those paintings.
  • Planning my conference in Evernote. I had a whole notebook with all the sessions I was interested in, all the places I wanted to go, transportation information, hotel and airline reservation information, and session notes. Had I not done this, there is no way, especially without wifi access, that I could have figured anything out. I also learned how to send emails into Evernote. I didn’t know how to do that before, and it proved extremely useful.
  • Buy a hat and gloves. Hey, it’s not as cold down here in the South. Still got windburn.
  • Go to the EC Ning meetup.
  • Save money and avoid the exhibits. Look, they are very cool, but truthfully, only the cheap/free paperbacks were worth my while. I didn’t want to carry home or have to mail a bunch of stuff like last year, so good job this year on saving space. Next time the convention comes to Atlanta, I’ll load up completely. Maybe.
  • Find time to write. Yes, it was mostly on the plane and at the airport, but as a result of finding time to write, I am only a little behind with NaNoWriMo. Last year, I gave up after NCTE because I saw no hope of catching up.

I came away from the conference wanting to be more active in the EC Ning, MC Pop Ning, and Twitter conversations (especially #engchat). Thanks for the wonderful time, everyone.

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NCTE Session G.41 Teaching the Hero’s Journey: Understanding Our Past, Creating Our Future

On Saturday, I presented with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse on teaching the Hero’s Journey. Here you will find my slide deck and handouts. You can find the handouts Glenda and Ami shared here at Glenda’s blog.

View more presentations from Dana Huff

Heroic Journey and Archetypes Note-taking Sheet

Star Wars Levels of Reading (MS Word document)

Star Wars Essay

Hobbit Essay Assignment

Please feel free to share feedback about the presentation and/or add to our list of hero’s journey texts. The Google Doc Glenda shared is not editable, but feel free to add suggestions in the comments. Also, if you have questions or need additional resources, feel free to ask in the comments.

I wanted to add this video for folks interested in The Matrix as a hero’s journey text:

YouTube Preview Image

Thank you Glenda and Ami for being awesome co-presenters.

I will share my own reflections and thoughts about the conference at a later time, but it was wonderful to see you all, and Chicago is a beautiful city.

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Requests for Materials

I have shared a lot of resources on this blog. I used to use a plugin called Apture (until it was discontinued) to manage some of the different kinds of links. For some reason, all the documents I uploaded while using that plugin were pushed to Scribd and set to private. I don’t actually have access to those documents in order to set them to public. I occasionally receive requests from people to allow access to these documents, but I can’t. I actually don’t have access to them. I do not have an account with Scribd. The documents were not uploaded to any account that I have access to.

The disappointment that I feel over the way Apture handled the discontinuation of the plugin, which caused me quite a few problems with this site and others I run, is the subject of another blog post, but suffice it to say I think they care very little about their customers, and their latest announcement that they have been acquired by Google are discontinuing all their products and services altogether on fairly short notice should surprise no one who has used their plugins. The links I created when I used this plugin still work, but the documents are, unfortunately, lost. I imagine I have them somewhere, but recreating the links and uploading the documents in all those posts would be a rather large task.

Sometimes people email requests for these documents and for others, and I have forgotten to respond. It is not that I am a terrible person who does not like to share. I do share. Quite a lot. It’s that I sometimes get terribly busy, and if I remember to send the documents, I might not be sending them in time for you to use them for your classes. That doesn’t do anyone any good.

If I do not respond to your request, that is probably why. I like to be helpful, but, if I can be honest, very few people offer any sort of a donation or exchange (such as lessons or handouts I might like). I don’t like the idea of charging for the content I provide here, and I haven’t been too successful in the past at attempting to monetize it when I have tried to go that route. People seem to feel resentful that I have asked for what I thought was fair compensation for the work I have done. I probably invited that resentment by offering so much stuff for free in the first place. Keeping up with all the requests I receive for resources has just become too difficult.

In short, sharing materials here on the blog is all the time I am able to donate towards sharing resources. If it isn’t here, I’m sorry, but I can’t provide it. I cannot email you copies of documents or create custom documents for you. I do not want to disappoint anyone, but I actually do receive quite a lot of these kinds of requests. It might seem to the requester that it’s a simple favor to ask, but it takes time to respond to each request and to find the materials in the first place, as I have materials on my computer a work, at home, and on various flash drives. When I haven’t used a particular resource in a long time, even if it is new and or relevant to readers here, it may be difficult for me to find.

Please feel free to use and adapt (with credit, please) the materials I share on this site, but I regret to say that I am unable to respond to future requests asking me to email you materials.

If you are looking for the materials I shared on this post about the hero’s journey, please be aware I plan to share them at NCTE when I present, and I may be able to post them here again when I have the opportunity.

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