NaNoWriMo continues to engage eighth graders

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Scotlyn Coenen and Ella Hanson

Braden Landt

Tyler Trappe

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Every November since 1999, hundreds of thousands of writing enthusiasts around the world have participated in the online creative writing project NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which challenges writers to complete a 50,000-word novel in only 30 days.

The project opened up to students in 2005, with the creation of the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. For six years now, MFL MarMac eighth graders in Scott Boylen’s language arts class have taken part, just on a smaller scale. They’re challenged to write a 10,000-word novel in that time span.

Most of the students reach that goal. Some greatly exceed it. Tyler Trappe wrote around 23,000 words—the highest amount in the class this year.

“This is a pretty big deal,” Boylen said. “It’s a huge undertaking to accomplish.”

Students prepare to write their novels two weeks in advance, forming plot lines and creating details about characters. 

“You have to do a lot of planning,” explained Braden Landt, who wrote a 10,300-word novel about elk hunting in Colorado. “You don’t just start and think it’s going to be exactly how you thought.”

Sometimes the best-laid plans fly out the window, however.

“I had a lot of different ideas,” remarked Ella Hanson. “But, as I was writing, everything changed. I just went with whatever I was thinking.”

Hanson used 18,000 words to tell a story about two best friends who took a trip to Florida, picking up another friend along the way. They got in a car crash, with one girl ending up in a coma. 

“It ends up with her dying,” Hanson shared.

Trappe admitted he didn’t really know what he was going to write about when he started.

“But I just kept going,” he said. “I just flowed through it.”

Trappe, who said he’s been looking forward to NaNoWriMo since he was in sixth grade, noted that his book is about an African American kid who was raised in a white family that was abusive toward him.

“He knows he’s different, so he tries to figure things out,” Trappe explained, adding that the boy eventually moves in with an aunt and figures out more information, but he still wants to know more about his birth mother.

Entitled “When I Finally Found Myself,” the novel pulls from experiences in his own life, Trappe said. 

“I’m thinking about publishing it,” he stated. He also plans to write a second book.

Writing the novel can be a daunting task for some, Boylen said.

“I’m still in awe that you can do it with such a positive attitude,” he told his students. “You work through it. It’s not just for a grade. I hope you can take this beyond eighth grade.”

Aside from improving students’ writing and creative skills, they learn about perseverance and time management through NaNoWriMo. Many students wrote outside class time in order to finish their novels.

Scotlyn Coenen said typing at home made it easier for her to reach her goal. She ended up with a 13,000-word novel that depicted the life of a teen who had to move to a new school.

The experience was eye-opening.

“Writers of books go through a lot more than we think,” Coenen commented.

Hanson said NaNoWriMo was harder than she anticipated.

“I thought I could have gotten it done faster, and I thought it would be easier to come up with ideas,” she said. “You have to keep up with it if you want to get it done. Don’t procrastinate.”

Landt, on the other hand, said he thought writing a novel would take longer.

“It went by quickly if you put your mind to it,” he said.

Trappe agreed: “I learned that something you might think is hard can be easy. You can accomplish big goals in life; you just have to think about it.”

Most importantly, Hanson added, “Just have fun with it.”

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