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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

NaNoWriMo: As Writer and Coach

This is my 10th anniversary participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s an organization that promotes writing an abundance of words (for adults, 50k) during one month’s time. This is not a project for the faint of heart or time. It’s a commitment that requires writing 1,667 thousand words per day. While I should be doing this anyway, other author tasks, my teaching and family life get in the way. It’s a sprint, really, a time to buckle down, commit, allow writing to take priority over all other things. Most importantly, it reinforces the habit of writing which I need by the time November rolls around. And, if I’m lucky, the habit will reignite itself well into my year (though, admittedly, I do scale back the time & word count–I do have a life outside my writing, sometimes).

I’ve been working on a draft for novel three that I’d hoped to finish by the end of summer, but I didn’t. The first time around as a soon-to-be author, I couldn’t have anticipated the pull of other author tasks (marketing, editing, networking) that having a debut novel release (soon, now!) would require. I had just gotten into the rhythm of book three by the time summer ended and I needed to prioritize my full time job, teaching high school juniors and seniors, over writing. This November project hits at just the right time each year when I feel fully into the groove of teaching.

My goals for this month are to finish this draft which I’m calling On Gossamer’s Wings and even start editing if I can be very industrious. This novel is about a woman who runs away, from a domestically abusive husband, with her daughter to reclaim her power and start over. I’m excited to pick it up again as I’ve contributed very little to the draft since summer ended.

In tandem with my own project, I host the Young Writers Program, a subdivision of NaNoWriMo for my high school creative writing students, thirty-five of them, who are writing novels for the first time. I make it fun for them by putting together a month-long calendar of challenges to keep up the momentum. We do word sprints and workshops along with lots of in-class writing time, and always with prizes. Together, we have over a 700,000 word count goal.

Beyond getting students excited about beginning a novella or a novel (many of their individual word counts are at 20K for the month) are the life skills they take away from this unit. It’s a crash course in time management to be sure, overcoming obstacles, learning not to edit yourself as you write, the importance of the need for revision and for community support. I’m always fascinated at the end of the project as they voice their take-aways in a reflection. While scared as hell to begin this uphill climb, almost all of them are glad they did by the end of the month when they see the rewards. A few have even gone on to finish their novels or pursue other kinds of writing or have even published. It warms my heart when students have shared what an inspiration this project had been for them, some many years after they graduated.

Together, my students and I have some lofty goals to accomplish, but I believe in us. So far, I’m halfway to my goal and my students are at 30% which I consider a win win.

You can follow me on Instagram (@ Donna Norman-Carbone) for updates of our progress and weekly NaNoWriMo writing tips. Stay tuned!

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