On NaNoWriMo

This year, moreso than past Novembers, there’s been a glut of commentary on the annual National Novel Writing Month challenge. The Atlantic Wire has a good round-up of opinions here , to which I’d add Candlemark & Gleam’s November 5 blog post. The short version: It’s not worth it; trying to turn out a novel in a month produces dreck, mostly; it’s better to write dreck than to write nothing; it’s a good for practice and getting into the habit of daily writing; but it’s dreck; it’s better than any number of things you could be devoting November to; REVISE.

I wonder if this conversation is secretly about varying writing and revision styles. Someone who crafts every sentence precisely and spends hours on a single paragraph is probably not going to succeed at NaNoWriMo. They’re revising in real time, and it’s a slow process. It’s just as valid a writing style as knocking out a novel in a month and then spending another month (or two, or twelve) doing the revision work most writers agree separates the serious from the scribblers, but it’s one that could make a project like NaNoWriMo seem fruitless.

There are bigger reasons than NaNoWriMo to think about different writing and revision styles. Students preparing for college need educators who can help them demystify writing and rewriting so that they can be prepared for a more demanding writing environment. For students with learning disabilities, understanding of any learning style is imperative to success. I’ve been tutoring writing for 8 years now, and I know that democratizing writing education is a vital need.

I got through college by basically writing three complete versions of every paper: I’d handwrite, usually in an hour or two, what I thought would be my essay. By the end, I realized that what I was really trying to say was not what I originally thought I wanted to say. I’d outline my new idea and rewrite, and then type the essay (making more edits) and hand it in. A process like that could have decimated my confidence in my writing abilities (it was not good for my wrists, at any rate). But great teachers had helped me understand that it was just me, and that my roommate who worked on one document, printed it, and handed it in didn’t actually have it any easier than I did. Talking about writing/rewriting styles is just as important to creating strong writers as teaching grammar or five-paragraph essay format.

There are groups out there bringing NaNoWriMo to school systems (826DC , my very favorite writing center in the world, just finished up Local Novel Mentoring Month with students at Wilson High School ). Maybe it’s an ideal time to get kids talking about their own writing and revision styles, too?

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