As I talked about in my recent post Why Teachers Should NaNoWriMo, I am embarking on the NaNoWriMo journey, and some of it will be taking place here on my blog, so I want to give an update on the kinds of posts you'll see over the next month.
For NaNoWriMo this year, I am being a Rebel. In the NaNo world, that is an official term. NaNo started as a way to get someone to write a fiction novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. Since then, new lessons have come about as more and more people have taken on the challenge. Personally, I haven't actually "won" NaNoWriMo in the last 4 years. I came close 4 years ago, did tremendously badly the years after that (I think I wrote less than 12,000 words 2 years ago...I don't like to talk about it) and last year I got over 30,000 and felt really good about it. Despite the word shortage, I still love the NaNoWriMo challenge and look forward to it every year, because the goal is so much more than an arbitrary word count. For me, the real beauty of NaNo is getting into a daily writing habit. So, I have two different projects I'm working on this year.
Project 1: Daily Blogging
My first goal is to get myself into the habit of writing a blog post daily. I really love the reflective practice that blogging creates. It is a powerful method of metacognition, having me think about my thinking.
I'm also a strong believer that all teachers should share their voice and thoughts in the world. Too often people outside of education judge us based on what the media says or is said about our profession by politicians, principals, parents, or students. At the end of the day though, only the teacher in the classroom knows what's teally going on, the planning, execution, and learning. Successes and failures.
Unless we share those stories, then others will continue to direct our stories.
I will be writing a blog post each day, most of the times about education or my thoughts, but I won't be posting them every day. Some of them will stink, for sure, and also, I don't think I need to post to this blog each day. Let's be honest, you guys aren't reading these every day, and that's fine. No, I'll write them and save them for later if they're any good.
Project 2: The Evolving Story of Nanos
My real creative excitement is coming from NaNoWriMo itself, and more specifically, from the work I'm doing for the NaNOrlando region. I am one of two Municipal Laisions for region, meaning that I help plan the events, organize the writers, communicate with the group about events and regional progress, and collaborate with local businesses for donations and space. This year though, I'm taking this role as lot farther.
Each year, NaNoWriMo has a theme. In the past, this theme has meant little more to me than determining the style of the swag they make, and the look of the stickers they send me to giveaway. This year, they announced that the theme was super heroes, and my Co-ML and I, being super feels ourselves, freaked out.
We started brainstorming ideas, and one of them was to create a region-wide D&D-style game in which we would tell a story of our region of hero writers fighting an evil villain. Through a few different riffing sessions, we developed the character of Nanos and his group of evil minions The Illiterati, who want to stop all stories from existing in the world.
As the month of November goes on, I will be writing the story, and whether we succeed or fail at each point will be based on if we are meeting our word count goals. The more words written, the better we will do against Nanos and his minions.
So, I will be releasing parts of the story on this blog starting tonight! You can hear about our exciting adventures as we try to stop Nanos from colleting the 6 Writing Gems and destroying stories as we know them!
There is only a week or so left in October, and that means National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner.
NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge for people to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (November 1st through 30th). It comes out to 1,667 words per day of pace. The general idea is to get yourself into a daily writing habit, and in that sense, you can "win" whether you make the 50K or not.
I first came to NaNoWriMo through a teacher friend of mine, who said I should get my students to try it. I looked into it and thought "Yeah, this would be a cool extra credit opportunity." I told them about it, and they asked if I was going to do it, and I said "Sure." I ended up winning that year, and even though none of my students did, I was hooked.
I believe that all teachers could benefit from the NaNoWriMo challenge for the following reasons.
Practice What You Preach
We stand in front of our kids every day and encourage them to write. You talk about the importance of putting words to page, reflecting on their learning, the editing process, the research process, and so on and so on. How many of us though actually put our money (and time) where our mouth is?
If we expect our students to believe in the power of writing, then we need to do our writing as well. This is critical to showing our students that we actually mean it. I can tell you, from my experience, that when students find out that I've written a book, they are more engaged in the writing process, are more likely to write in meaningful ways for me.
Build Your Tribe
One of the best things about NaNoWriMo (besides the writing) is the community support. Every year, writers come out in droves to events throughout the country. Each part of the country is divided into regions through the NaNo website, and each region has a Municipal Liaison who plans events throughout the month and organizes a calendar of other smaller events as well. These events are a great way to meet other writers in the area, and make new friends.
Students Will Push You
So many of us have had the thought "I could write a book," or "I have a book in my head." NaNoWriMo pushes you to put the actual words on the page. The daily challenge, and community support, make it so much harder to slack off and not do it. There's just too much guilt if you don't.
As a teacher, you can take that pressure even further. Explain how it works to your students, tell them about the process. Then, tell them you're doing it, and encourage them to join you. And, as a last step, write on a corner of your whiteboard your word count (starting at 0). Once November 1st rolls around, update your board-word count daily, and include where your pace should be to make it. The first day you fall under that pace, your students will hound you about it. Now you have to catch back up!
You're in...now what?
Well, if you want more information about what NaNoWriMo is and how you do it, I ran a session on NaNo a few weeks ago, and through my regional Facebook page, we recorded it. So, if you have an hour and want to watch me talk all about NaNo, view that here.
If you don't want to watch an hour of video and would prefer to read about the challenge, checkout NaNoWriMo.org for more details.
Lastly, if you're going to be taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, let me know! Reach out on Twitter and say you're in. I have some super things going on with my region I will make sure you are aware of.
It has been an interesting year for me. For a couple of personal reasons (the details of which I don't really want to get into here), I have written nearly nothing in a year. I haven't found myself in a writing mood. I didn't even win NaNoWriMo this year, and for anyone that knows me, this is a huge failure.
On the flip-side, I have found myself more passionate and interested in my day-job, teaching. I have been in a new school, now a high school teacher instead of middle school, and that has certainly been a factor. In addition, I'm working for a principal, and admin team as a whole, that genuinely appreciates me and my work. I like my kids more (though I'm not going to try and say there aren't individual exceptions), I enjoy my day more, and I generally like my co-workers. This is weird to me.
Along with a more supportive administration, I also now have an administration that looks to my strengths, and asks me to impact the school in a positive way with those. During this year, I have been part of a Digital Curriculum Teacher Leader core consisting of 5 teachers from our school (and in a school with nearly 200 teachers, that's a small number). Through this training group, I have come to be a teacher leader for technology, running Professional Developments for my fellow teachers and administration. So, when the idea of a Digital Curriculum Instructional Coach for next year was floated by my principal, I said that it should be me, and he agreed.
Despite all the evidence in front of me, I have still always considered my online presence (and really, even internally) considered myself an author first and a teacher second. My acceptance that this was not truly the case was not easy.
Still, after a long and blunt conversation with me (and yes, I talk to myself, and I don't need your judgment!) I decided that this long-neglected blog needed a facelift and a repurpose. So, you can now expect to see more frequent posting, especially posts focusing on technology in the classroom. And who knows, maybe I'll start writing fiction again because of it (hey, a guy can dream, right?).
I have had friends tell me before that they have "read that book," and then proceed to talk about the voice work done by the narrator. My immediate response is to cringe, and sarcastically throw up air quotes like I'm raising a very tiny, and crooked, roof. My gut reaction, as a reader, is that reading is a task performed with your eyes, and if you are listening to another person read to you, you just aren't reading.
Then, as a writer, I have to pause and think logically. I write because I have a story inside me that must get out. I publish because I want to share that story with others. How people choose to consume that content shouldn't matter to me so long as they consume it, and, to a much lesser extent, I get paid.
The writer in me disagrees with the reader in me, so I turn to the tie-breaking side: the teacher. Unfortunately, this is where the waters get even more murky.
When dealing with students we talk about phonological awareness as one of the factors that determines literacy, or ability to recognize and repeat sounds of the language. In this aspect, audiobooks would have an advantage over print because you are hearing the words pronounced correctly (assuming the narrator is any good).
However, we also judge students on other skills, like being able to recognize "sight words" (common words that anyone should be able to recognize) and their ability to sound out unfamiliar words. In these two skills, audiobooks have little benefit.
The best answer is to say that audiobooks have their place and so do print books. Certainly we use reading aloud regularly with children (especially with younger children who are learning to read), and even with middle school students this is a common and useful strategy. But when it comes to real-world application, their boss certainly isn't going to read their employee manual or emails to them (although as the technology improves, text-to-speech makes this a possibility).
I go back and forth on this issue a lot, but I think ultimatley it comes down to a question of intention. If you intend to "read" a good story for the literary or entertainment value, then I don't see why you can't dive into the world of an audiobook with as much fervor as print, and so long as the writer still gets paid, he can rejoice in another willing mind to paint his world into.
But with children, we need to avoid letting them depend heavily on audiobooks. I would like to believe that no amount of technological innovation will ever make the ability to read unnecessary [NOTE TO SELF: Future blog post?], and so being able to listen to someone else read will not be able to replace good ol' fashioned reading.
A friend of mine said to me on twitter today, “Brad, kind of struggling lately with the idea of being a writer, given so few people read these days. Any recommendations?”
It was an innocuous enough question, and he was probably just looking for me to say “Keep at it!” or “You’re great!” or some other such fluffy nonsense (at least this is the response I imagine most people would give), but being that I am a writer and a thinker [NOTE TO SELF: Can you be a writer without being a thinker? Future blog post.], the question really got the gears upstairs moving.
Now, I am a writer of fiction, and avoid research at all costs, so I don’t have any fancy numbers to back up all the stuff I’m saying, just the observations of a crazy person and the random bits of data that I have heard and gotten lodged in my brain. Plus, I write this blog post as my wife drives, so I don’t have the power of the Google-machine to research these facts even if I wanted to.
It is a really loaded question because of the basic assumption, that people generally read less. As a middle school teacher I can definitely vouch for the trend. Many students simply don’t want to read, and getting them to do so, even as part of a required component of the class, is a constant challenge. This is echoed by their statements about their parents not reading, or even owning books. Beyond these observations, there is certainly a decline in book sales as a whole. Stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble can’t seem to keep their doors open, and I constantly see used bookstores going out of business (though this could easily be attributed to the fact that they can’t possibly compete with the Amazon used book model). For the purposes of this blog post, we will allow the assumption to stand, that people are, at least generally speaking, reading less.
As my brain ran through its higher gears to contemplate all the implications of this seemingly simple question, I thought back to comments made last night by Eric Ruben (generally awesome dude. Follow him on twitter @rubenagency), literary and showbiz agent. He was talking about the state of the publishing industry now, and one thing he said really hit me: “Now more than ever, writing is showbiz.” He made comments about readers being accessible to their readers, but I think it goes beyond that.
Technology is truly starting to blur the lines of what is and is not a book. For example, is an ebook a “book?” It doesn’t have pages, and you just can’t hold it in your hands like a real book (as I’ve heard many people complain when talking about my own love for ereaders). I find myself particularly torn when you start to talk about audiobooks. If someone listens to an unabridged version of Harry Potter, can they truly say that they “read” that book? Trust me when I say that this is not the post for me to delve into that argument [NOTE TO SELF: Future blog post].
I ramble about all of that so that I can tell you my recommendations for my friend. With the lines blurring, we as writers have to start to change the definitions of ourselves. I think the new thing we need to call ourselves is “content creator.” There are people out there who are respectably successful running a twitter account and finding ways to monetize it (one of my personal favorites is @sarcasticrover). There are lots of people who are successful YouTube producers, and as this channel becomes larger as a place for original content, they will be in need of writers. Others make a comfortable living doing freelance writing, a magazine here, blog post there.
So, while I don’t think people are reading novels as often, the human species as a whole will always have a thirst for knowledge and adventure. We as writers just have to be willing to find the new way our audience consumes the content we have to offer, whether it is through the spoken word (which would arguably be a regression instead of a progression) or 140 characters at a time.