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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A Mishmash of Assorted Thoughts

When you update as seldom as I have lately, it seems posts are destined to become a mishmash of assorted thoughts as I catch everyone up.

First, as you can see from the sidebar, I am supporting NCTE’s National Day on Writing. I am not sure exactly what I and my students will do, but I would like to make a big deal out of it at my school and perhaps support our literary magazine in the process. Speaking of literary magazines, my daughter is in the literary magazine class at school, and it sounds like the coolest class ever. Her teacher lets them work on whatever writing they want, and they are guaranteed to have a submission published in the magazine. My daughter loves to write, and she starts lots of projects, but I hope a class like this will encourage her to finish one. Her teacher told us on Curriculum Night that students can write poetry, short stories, or even spend the time working on their novel. I was so impressed to hear a teacher talking about students writing novels. I didn’t ask if he’s going to encourage the kids to participate in NaNoWriMo. I can’t think of a year when I’ve wanted to participate more myself, but alas, grad school will most likely make that unfeasible. There’s always next year, by which time (cross your fingers) I plan to have graduated.

Speaking of grad school, this semester finds me in Graphic Design for Electronic Presentations, Telecommunications and Distance Learning, Software Evaluation, and Digital Video. I am finding it hard to get motivated to work. The degree at the end of my studies has become my carrot. One thing I have learned from my classes, and I believe it’s possibly an unintended lesson, is that students need the clearest possible instructions before they begin an assignment and that rubrics must be clear. I have turned in quite a few assignments over the course of last spring and beginning this fall in which instructions and rubrics were not clear, and I feel I lost points because of problems with instructors rather than my own work. If I do not follow directions, I expect to lose points, but it’s a shame when it’s because an instructor is not clear. I do think it’s helped my own teaching. Who wants to play the game of what does she want? How many points do you think she’ll take off for this arbitrary thing I didn’t even know I did?

Looping back to the National Day on Writing, I have a complaint to lodge about NCTE’s website. I followed a tweet by Kylene Beers to add a badge to my blog in support of the National Day on Writing. She sent her followers on Twitter to the main NCTE page. I had to hunt around for the National Day on Writing information, and even then, I couldn’t find the badges until I used the search feature (here it is, by the way, so you don’t have to hunt). Folks, we are working with teachers of all sorts of levels of technological ability, and it’s not the first time I have had to hunt all over the NCTE website for something they’re actively promoting, which to me means it should be screaming from every page. Am I alone in this, or does anyone else find their website a bear to navigate? I also have never had a response from either Traci Gardner or NCTE about the fact that the companion site for Designing Writing Assignments is missing.

In other news, I upgraded my Mac to Snow Leopard, and I like most of the improvements, though I haven’t had a chance to play with many of them. My favorite Twitter client, Nambu, is broken in Snow Leopard and those folks move about as fast as Christmas when addressing issues like that. I understand that it’s free software, and it’s in beta, so I don’t complain, but I do miss the software. Tweetdeck just doesn’t do it for me, but I find I can’t keep up at all unless I use a Twitter client.

Aside from all these thoughts, I’ve barely had time to talk about school. I have some great classes this year. My Hero with a Thousand Faces class is full, and a lot of students who requested it were not able to get in. Considering we had about half capacity last year, that tells me the word on the street is pretty good, and that makes me happy because I designed this class from the ground up. It’s a study of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth and Jungian archetypes. So far we have learned about Campbell’s ideas. To get rolling, I had students split up the section with the three parts of the hero’s journey and present their findings in groups. Then, I used a wonderful SMARTBoard notebook file (I think you need to be a member of TeqSmart to download, but it’s free) I found by James Longwell-Stevens to review our presentations. We are currently in the midst of a study of The Iliad. I found a great portfolio with lesson plans shared by a student teacher, and the calendar has been extremely helpful to me in planning. I also used some of the student teacher’s ideas. I will let students select our next text to study. My British lit. classes are also off to a great start. We are in the middle of Beowulf. I am tweaking my performance task slightly. In the past, I’ve had students create Beowulf’s résumé as a culminating activity, but I think this year, they will write from Hrothgar’s point of view to some made up king (or queen—perhaps Queen Huffgar the Wise?) recommending Beowulf for the job of monster-killer. The premise is the same. They need to do the same close reading. The format will be different, but the audience is essentially the same, too. I can still require the annotation piece, as well. Of course, I have also totally stolen Joe Scotese’s wonderful Beowulf ideas as well. No one can put together a close-reading exercise like Joe. He’s a master. My ninth grade class is wrapping up a study of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. All in all, it’s been a good start, folks are engaged (or else they are good actors, which I don’t discount), and I am enjoying school very much.

My family and I enjoyed the Decatur Book Festival yesterday. It was exciting to be among so many book lovers. We really enjoyed the Georgia Shakespeare Festival‘s Will Power troupe, who did a production of Alice in Wonderland. It was a great day, even if I wasn’t able to see Diana Gabaldon after all. You can read more about it on my book blog.

Before I go, I will put in a plug for Plasq’s Comic Life software, which enables you to create handouts that look like comics (or, indeed, to create comics). They have some great layouts and fonts, and they have a great educational discount. I only paid $19.95 for the educators’ version of the software, which enables me to install it on Mac and Windows, or at least that’s my understanding. I downloaded it on my Mac, but I haven’t tried to put it on my desktop at work, yet. At any rate, it’s a fairly low price and a substantial discount, and if you like making funky handouts, it’s worth it.

Right. I’d better start my Telecommunications and Distance Learning homework, and I have an assignment from another class I need to resubmit now that I understand what I was supposed to have done the first time (but never mind, I’ve already complained about that).

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