In preparation for National Novel Writing Month, a Manchester Township High School teacher recently shared her keys to successfully completing the seemingly impossible task on a New York Times blog.
English teacher Jennifer Ansbach challenges her junior class to write a novel during the month of November as part of the tongue-twisting NaNoWriMo. She first learned about it while teaching in Pleasantville in 2007 and created her own approach based on the Young Writers Program workbook.
"I strongly recommend NaNo. It's exhilarating," she told Manchester Patch in an email. "The first year I was so busy trying to plan the lessons and meet with students and balance everything that I lost track of time and wrote 50,000 words (the minimum to 'win' NaNo as an adult participant) over four 8-hour nights."
In her Times blog post entitled "'We’re going to do WHAT?': How NaNoWriMo Has Changed the Lives of Over 700 of My Students," Ansbach describes how novel writing is incorporated into her lesson plans and the confidence students gain from completing the process.
"Now, when they look at a task like calculus or applying to college, they remember they wrote an entire novel in a month, and they know they can do this, too," she writes.
Writing a 40,000 word novel isn't easy. Students write in school and at home to reach that goal while applying the lessons they've learned in class.
When writer's block strikes, Ansbach has a solution.
"And there’s always my fallback: kill someone. In your novel, that is," she writes in the blog. "Create more conflict. Let your other characters grieve and move on, piecing together the lives you created for them."
Ansbach said her blog was featured on the Times after the president of The Office of Letters and Light, the overseers of the project, offered it to the newspaper's Learning Network.
The challenge isn't just for students. In fact, Ansbach said that it is aimed at adults and has spurred major success for authors.
"And people publish their NaNo novels all the time. 'Water for Elephants' started as a NaNoWriMo novel, for example," Ansbach told Patch.
Ansbach also cautioned those who take on the task to back up their work after she lost her first NaNoWriMo creation, a mystery written years ago.
"Sadly, that very bad novel was lost in a total hard drive failure a few months later," she said.