Dirt Under My Fingernails

intentional teaching on the great plains

Why We Use National Novel Writing Month as Our English Curriculum

on November 1, 2013

Eva and her beloved Kinzy, the subject of her next book!

Welcome to November, the official National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! As many of you are already aware, NaNoWriMo is a free online program that challenges participants to write a book in 30 days. The program is segmented; there’s a site for adults and a site for kids, with different approaches and requirements. Both components are chock full of encouragement, humor, intelligence, and a general positive nature that just makes you feel good about writing. I’m a huge fan.

Eva at 6 years old, holding the first copy of her first book, Birds on the Run.

Eva at 6 years old, holding the first copy of her first book, Birds on the Run.

Eva started participating in NaNoWriMo when she was just six years old. That year, I asked her a series of questions to help her create an outline for her story. Over the month of November, she dictated her story to me, and I typed it down as fast as my fingers could fly, word for word. Over the months of December and January, I taught her how to edit her work, in February I taught her how to choose text blocks to illustrate, and in March I laid it all out and sent it off to a self-publishing firm. In April, she had her book in her eager hands. An author was born.

Since then, we have participated every year, and over time Eva has taken on more of the entire idea to market process. She no longer dictates to me, she takes care of most of the editing (though she still uses an outside editor as well, because all good writers use outside editors), and she has learned the graphic design, layout and uploading process of creating the final product. Now in November, you’ll often find us sitting side by side working on our separate projects. And that’s fine by me.

Writing a novel each year is a huge project, and as such it makes up the bulk of Eva’s English curriculum. It is not exclusive, however; she also reads quality, challenging books, we attend plays and discuss movies and Dr. Who episodes, and I give her the occasional argumentative essay assignment. But we are a family of story creators, and I believe that the time we commit to NaNoWriMo is worth its weight in gold.

Eva talks to two classes of third graders at Saxvik Elementary about being an author.

Eva talks to two classes of third graders at Saxvik Elementary about being an author.

Participation in NaNoWriMo has taught Eva how to develop plot, character, and setting. It’s taught her about story genre, grammar, style, and point of view. She’s studied illustration styles, formatting, and graphic design. She’s also learned business management, supply and demand, and about profits and costs. Being an author has provided public speaking opportunities and has led her to pursue theater and filmmaking, as well as web design and professional social media management. She learned to save her money and reinvest in her business; just last week she purchased a Macbook Air with the profits from her book sales. Perhaps she would have developed these skills without NaNoWriMo, but it certainly planted a seed.

So it is with great pleasure that we enter the month of November. Eva woke up on November 1st as excited as if it was Christmas day. She couldn’t wait to get started, and scurried off to her room with her new Mac. Throughout the morning, I kept hearing periodic squealing from the other room: “I can’t believe how much I LOVE to write!”

If you’d like your child to connect with Eva on NaNoWriMo this month, you can find her at EvaRocks. I know she’d love to share the journey!

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12 responses to “Why We Use National Novel Writing Month as Our English Curriculum

  1. stanleyandkatrina says:

    Yay! Love this month and it IS the best curriculum you could use. It is what we did last year with the editing and all. Fantastic for homeschooling. Darling Daughter just got home from school, hopped on to the computer and is working on today’s word count. Yippee! Go, girls!
    ~Christine M
    for Stanley & Katrina

  2. Karen Stewart says:

    Good luck to you and Eva both! Sounds like a fabulous month of writing!

  3. Wendy says:

    would Eva be interested in skyping in to one of my NaNo group sessions? I am coaching about 17 kids from age 8-12. It would be fab to listen to Eva’s perspective and her experience with NaNoWriMO!


    • Hi Wendy! Eva has done a lot of Skype and in person presentations over the last couple of years, but she’s decided that for now anyway she prefers connecting to kids on her blog or by email, or one-on-one.

      If you’re interested, your group could watch her videos on writing (on her website – they’re only 2 minutes each, 5 videos all together), and then share thoughts, ideas, questions, etc. either through her comments page on her website, or through her email. What do you think?

      I think it’s wonderful, by the way, that you have 17 kids in your group! Way to go!

  4. Wendy says:

    Thanks Gwyn, we’ll do that. We have a meeting tomorrow, so I’ll check ‘em out tonight. One of my students is very quiet and shy, so i think (hope) that Eva’s videos will be helpful in a way that I can’t be.

    is Eva up for Private email on the NaNo site? or would accessing her through the blog be better? Max and Abby would love to send/share words of encouragement!

    wendy (this is wendy rader, btw. ;)

    • I knew it was you, Wendy! :) As always, I’m so inspired by your work with the NaNoWriMo clubs.

      Eva checks her blog and NaNoWriMo every day, so either will be fine. She always responds, and loves to hear from other kids.

  5. Cheri says:

    My son is 7 and this is his first year participating in NaNoWriMo. He is so excited to be writing his novel. His login is Writing Rex. I will have him do a buddy request for your daughter.

  6. Nicole says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I have one question. What was Eva’s word count when she was 6? My daughter just turned 6 on Halloween, and I’m not sure what would be appropriate, but we have already started!

    • Hi Nicole,

      Eva’s first word count goal was 2,000 words, which broke down to just a few sentences each day. One of the great things about the kids’ program of NaNoWriMo is that you can change the word count goal as many times as you need to as the month progresses. That really helped us over the years.

      Good luck to your daughter (and Happy Birthday too), and let us know if we can offer any encouragement!

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