NY Times Hosts Manchester Teacher's Writings on Novel Challenge

MTHS teacher describes experience with National Novel Writing Month

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.

Concerned Parent October 15, 2012 at 07:04 AM
Wow a teacher gets lauded for going well above and beyond what is required of her, for the benefit of OUR children, and you take the opportunity to bash her. Have a little class please, this is not the forum for it. Well done Ms. Ansbach and thank you for all your hard work!
Billabong October 15, 2012 at 12:45 PM
In this text-crazy world, it's nice to see teachers who promote writing skills as well as creativity. The ability to craft a good story is beneficial in a number of industries that might interest students - journalism, music, film, television, video game production, public relations, nonprofit work, among others. Kudos to all the students who take a shot a NaNo, it's a lot of work, but rewarding.
Walter Giersbach October 15, 2012 at 05:01 PM
This is simply great! I've had a number of friends participate in NaNoWriMo. (Me, I trudge along for months on my novels.) Specially glad to see there's some emphasis on writing in this part of the state. Our Writers' Circle (https://sites.google.com/site/manchesterwriters/home) judged a Manchester Lbrary contest last year and discovered a couple of brilliant short story writers in high school.
Dweebers October 15, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I had Mrs. Ansbach last year and wrote my own novel (though it fell very short of the 40,000 word goal). Yes, it does suck. But, all of the students spend most of their time complaining about it as compared to actually doing it. As long as you spend your time writing, you will get a good grade, regardless of your amount of content. I am far too busy to participate in the fun this year but, who knows, I might do it next year! P.S.: I found that the best way to write it is by starting small. Summarize what your novel will be about in one long sentence. Expand that into a paragraph, then a page, until eventually you have plenty of ideas and events that you can eventually create a whole novel with. I ensure you all that if you write about something interesting enough, it will indeed be a fun process. Good luck to all of those participating in NaNoWriMo this year!!


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