Students hone writing skills through NaNoWriMo

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Caleb Nordheim

Haylee Guyer

Jaxon Lenth

Mya Nelson

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Few people can say they’ve written a novel. Even fewer have done it as teenagers. But, as of Dec. 1, most of the MFL MarMac eighth grade class had completed the unique accomplishment.

“Every year, it gets better and better,” said Scott Boylen, who, each November for seven years, has challenged his eighth grade language arts students to participate in the online creative writing project NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNoWriMo has engaged hundreds of thousands of writing enthusiasts since 1999, encouraging them 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. Boylen’s students participate through that, with the goal of writing a 10,000-word novel in the time span.

“It’s a huge thing,” Boylen said. “It took a tremendous amount of work.”

Students prepared to write their novels in October, forming plot lines and settings, creating characters and learning how to use dialogue.

In November, the students got down to business, spending class time writing their novels. Many, especially those who surpassed the 10,000-word goal, wrote outside class. Every second mattered.

“Time is really important when you’re writing a novel. I was on the brink of midnight,” said Haylee Guyer, who wrote a 15,000-word novel about a girl who opened her own bakery in New York City. 

Caleb Nordheim felt the same. “Don’t procrastinate,” he emphasized.

Getting started was difficult for some.

“It was really hard and scary in the beginning,” admitted Jaxon Lenth, who penned a 10,004-word action and adventure novel, “but it got better along the way.”

NaNoWriMo benefits students in a variety of ways, said Boylen, including improving their writing skills.

“It provides them with 10,000 words of writing practice,” he said. “They work on editing too. That’s another aspect, getting into the grammar and usage.”

Lenth agreed, noting that his participation in NaNoWriMo will help him when working on future projects or papers.

For others, it sparked their creativity.

“I really liked making up my own story,” shared Nordheim, whose 10,010-word novel told about a homeless man who embarked on a treasure hunt. Once the man discovered the treasure, he was forced to choose between keeping it for himself, and getting out of poverty, or giving it to his mother, who had cancer. Spoiler alert: he gave it to his mom.

Guyer, who wrote about the New York City baker, enjoyed that the story played into her interests.

“I also wanted to be a chef, and I always liked baking with my mom,” she said. “I thought of all those fun times when writing this.”

The baker in her story overcame adversity, filling an order for 1,500 cupcakes when she didn’t believe she could.

Mya Nelson’s novel was 20,000 words, one of the highest amounts in the class. She wrote about a girl who came back to her hometown and met her old boyfriend. The two eventually got back together.

“It was really random, but fun,” she said of forming the story. 

Nelson has always enjoyed writing and typing. 

“When I graduate, I want to be an author. I felt like it was easy for me,” she shared. “It was a pretty interesting experience. I like how it inspires other people to read.”

NaNoWriMo also boosts the students’ confidence in not just their writing, but themselves.

“I enjoyed finishing, because it was a big accomplishment,” Lenth said.

“Getting done and finishing was really rewarding,” Guyer added. “I learned that I’m pretty good at writing.”

Now, said Boylen, students can consider printing their books: “There will be an actual book with an ISBN number on it in the library.”

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