A New Perspective on NaNoWriMo

As I mentioned in this guest post at Lisa Romeo Writes, I’m teaching a NaNoWriMo workshop at my older son’s elementary school this year. After a month or more of preparations, the students are finally in the process of writing their novels (3,000 – 6,000 words, depending on grade level). They are over-the-top excited.

And, I’m over-the-top worried. What if the kids get discouraged? What if they don’t write? What if they can’t meet their word-count goals? What if, what if, what if.

While I’m worried about the class as a whole, I’m especially worried about my own son. Since First Grade, I’ve watched him struggle with reading, writing and spelling. In Second Grade, with a doctor’s help, we identified that while he has 20/20 vision, he has other vision issues that were making it really difficult for him to see letters on the page, track lines of text and identify differences in letter formation.

Thanks to vision therapy and occupational therapy for his handwriting, he’s making huge progress. Huge, huge progress. With these barriers closer to being resolved, he is working so hard to bring what he writes and reads up to his academic level. In fact last month he beamed when the eye doctor told him he had a Fourth Grade brain. (He’s in Third Grade.) She explained that no wonder it’s been tough for him — it’s a lot of work trying to express everything he knows in his Fourth Grade Brain when he’s only working with a First Grader’s vision.

So last week he sat down to start his novel. He put 45 words on the page. A Second Grade girl in the workshop had 700 words. Another boy had 450 words. My son looked at me, concerned.

“What if I can’t do this, Mom?”

“You can do it,” I told him. “Put that inner editor back in the box! We all write at our own pace. It’s the story you put on the page that matters. Not the number of words. Not the speed with which you write. We all have our own process.” (Reminder to self: listen to your own advice.)

Yesterday while he was home sick, he decided to spend some time writing.

“Will you sit with me while I write?” he asked.

We were both nervous. Where would this project go? We sat side-by-side at our oak dining table. He opened his notebook with the NaNoWriMo sticker on the front and picked up his pencil. One sentence, several “how-do-you-spell” questions and seven words later, he stopped writing.

With only 52 words on the page, I was also starting to wonder how he would get to 3,000 by November 30.

“What else should I say?” he asked.

I looked at his tiny (but growing!) hand gripping the yellow #2 pencil, his bottom lip tucked under his top row of teeth. He waited for my response. Motivation and ability to write aren’t the issue here. He wants to write. He’s got a great story in his head. He’s shared parts of it with me. But how does he get that story out onto the page?

“Let’s make this like your handwriting exercises,” I said. “You write a sentence, then you dictate the next sentence to me. Then you write, then you dictate to me. We’ll continue back and forth, back and forth, sentence by sentence.”

“Okay,” he said, his teeth losing the grip on his bottom lip.

He began his next sentence and handed me the pencil when he reached the end of it. The pencil stopped but the ideas kept coming. I wrote what he said and handed him the pencil when the sentence came to an end. When his storyline stumped him, either on the page or while dictating to me, I probed with questions. How did the taxi driver kidnap the boy? Where did he take him? What did it look like?

Twenty minutes later his word count was at 245 words. And he was done for the day. He raced to update his word count in the virtual classroom for our Young Writers Program at NaNoWriMo.

“You’ve completed 6% of your goal,” I looked over his shoulder at the screen.

“Actually, 6.8 %,” he corrected me, beaming.

I’m not so worried anymore.

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8 Responses to A New Perspective on NaNoWriMo

  1. Andrea says:

    Wonderful! What a great mom you are, and how awesome that you’re volunteering to teach such a cool thing in your kid’s school. For my oldest son, language in all forms (speaking, writing, reading, spelling) came easily; for the other two, every step of the way has been a slow struggle and I vassilate between just sitting back and letting them progress at their own pace and freaking out that maybe I should be doing something more to help them along (but what? and when? and with what time?). I like your idea of taking turns writing/dictating a story. Maybe we’ll give it a try this three-day weekend.

  2. Anne says:

    Kudos to you. Having the correct diagnosis and therapy are crucial, working so that they don’t ‘burn out’ is a balancing act.. Children can do so much when given the proper support!

  3. Liz says:

    Thanks for your comment and encouragement, Anne. I so agree about “burn out” — that was one of the indicators that our son needed to get the vision therapy. He was getting so frustrated and burned out by the writing and spelling and reading. Once he was interested in NaNoWriMo, I was worried this might burn him out, too. But thankfully (so far) it seems to be inspiring him!

  4. Liz says:

    Thanks, Andrea. I am also of the mind that things will work out. And we took that approach with our son for quite a while; especially given that boys are “slower” to develop these skills than girls. But as he was starting to get more and more discouraged we knew it was time to get some additional help. Wasn’t one of your sons thinking of taking the NaNoWriMo challenge this year? Hope he did and hope it’s going well!

  5. Liz, your post about your own son’s progress with the NaNoWriMo challenge reminds me that when our youngest daughter was beginning to spell, the so-called whole language movement was beginning to take hold among elementary reading program teachers. Since I had a degree in reading education I would tell her, “Spell it like it sounds.” With her sister, older by two grade levels, I had always spelled words for her. Our youngest daughter ended up with terrible spelling in high school. Fortunately, by the time she reached college, “spell check” on computers saved the day. She is now an English as a Second Language and English Language Learning classroom teacher. Her ability to interpret words with unusual spelling in her students’ writing is uncanny.

    I found your reply to my comment following your guest post on Lisa Romeo’s blog.

  6. Tia Bach says:

    I love this story. I just started a 4th grade Writing Club at my daugher’s school, because so many parents kept asking me to tutor their kids in writing. It’s so much about self-confidence. Kids convince themselves that they can’t do it, and teachers don’t have enough time to walk around and encourage each child individually (especially with bigger classroom sizes thanks to education budget cuts). It’s a shame.

    But, I too worry if I can be the solution they need to start to love writing, or at least not hate it. My first class is tomorrow, so wish me luck. I can’t wait to hear how your son feels at the end of his NaNo. Hugs.

  7. AP says:

    What a wonderful story! Such great teamwork, and parenting, too.

    My daughter’s been writing in fits and starts. I was worried for a while. Then I remembered that she’s written more recently in her middle school applications. I know she can do it. My job is to let her do it in her own time.

  8. Pingback: Five Days Until NaNoWriMo | Motherlogue

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