November novel-writing at Marvin Ridge Middle

WAXHAW – Every sixth-grader at Marvin Ridge Middle School could soon be the author of a published novel.

Thanks to a grant from the North Carolina School Library Media Association, Marvin Ridge was able to start an “author mentors/student writing” project in which professional authors will hold workshops with the students during the next six weeks, guiding them through the process of writing a novel.

Last year, students in language arts teacher Dan Stone’s sixth-grade class were given the task of writing their own novel during the month of November, and Stone wrote his own novel along with his students.

“It’s like marathon. At the beginning it seems impossible, but on Nov. 30 when all the word counts are finalized, there is such a sense of accomplishment, pride and relief,” Stone said in a news release.

Brita Mann, the school’s media coordinator, said the effort was a huge success.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “The students are really busy with other activities, but we found that there were 30 kids, 40 kids that were arriving in the afternoon (after school) and working on their novel. They were enjoying writing, which is sometimes like pulling teeth for middle school students.”

She continued, “We found their attitude toward writing changed. Instead of a grueling, ‘I have to do this’ kind of thing, they felt more enthusiastic about it so in January when they had to write a research paper, they had a lot better understanding of the (writing) process.”

Banking on last year’s success, the school expanded the effort to the entire sixth grade, challenging each student to write a 10,000- to 20,000-word novel by the end of November. Those who reach their goal will have their novel published and receive five free copies of the book.

But the students won’t be going it alone this time. The NCSLMA grant allows the schools to bring in professional authors who will hold workshops focused on various aspects of novel writing. For instance, author Monika Schroder designed a workshop centered on writing from personal experience, using her own book written from her experience living in India.

Some of the authors will be able to visit the school in person, while others will talk to the students via Skype. Mann said the goal was to schedule a wide variety of authors and presentations, as the students will write novels with different themes and genres.

“At the end, kids will be writing fantasies. Some kids will write from personal experience. Some kids will write historical (novels),” she said. “We’re hoping to give them lots of different flavors of lots of different writing so they have a better understanding of what they’d like to write about.”

As the students begin the writing process, they register with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an organization that guides the students through the process of writing a novel in one month. They’re put in groups where they read each others’ work and offer ideas and suggestions to one another. Once their novel is complete, if it meets the minimum requirement of 50 pages, the students get to choose the design for a book cover and the novel is published in paperback format.

Mann said the most challenging part of the process for the students is editing.

“You don’t think about what you’re writing until after (you’re finished), so to write it and then go back and change it, it’s a lot more difficult,” she said. “Editing is the hardest thing for kids to do … but (knowing) it’s going to be published really motivates them to go back and make some changes.”

Mann said she hopes students walk away from the project not just with a published book bearing their name, but also with a deeper understanding and appreciation of writing.

“Our main goal is to really get kids enthusiastic about writing,” she said. “We feel that when we give them a sense of accomplishment and show them that writing is a fun thing – it’s not just a task you have to do in school – it’s a way to help them … feel more enthusiastic about writing and feel like it’s something that they choose to do, not something that they have to do.”

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