MAGNA -- It took Fitzgerald six months to write "The Great Gatsby," but some Utah students are trying to accomplish a similar feat in just one.
Eighth-grade students at Brockbank Junior High School are participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge to each write a 50,000 word novel, just 3,000 words more than F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous work.
English teacher Kevin McDaniel decided to integrate the NaNoWriMo challenge into his curriculum in 2010 after seeing it mentioned on a book club website.
"I had never heard of it, but I took a look at the website and the lessons match the core objectives for writing very well," McDaniel said.
They are objectives that emphasize writing narratives to teach students to reflect on their feelings and recreate experiences.
Other teachers agreed, and soon the entire eighth grade was on board. With 90 percent of students completing the task, the challenge was deemed a "huge success."
This year, about 400 students are participating in the November challenge. Students responded to the announcement with a mixture of fear and excitement, according to McDaniel.
- 200,000 adult participants
- 41,000 youth participants
- 1,800 participating classrooms The 2011 program is expecting 2,000 to participate.
"There were certainly some who were fearful at the thought of writing an entire novel," McDaniel said. "But others were extremely excited, saying they already had ideas or had started novels outside of class and wanted to finish them. And there was everything in between."
McDaniel said the main reason some students were apprehensive was because they did not have any ideas, or did not know how to put their thoughts on paper. In class, he focuses on researching, writing essays and putting creative talents to use.
"They need to understand this is something they can write from their imaginations," he said. "The challenge is helping them realize that their life is an important story to tell."
His students recognized that challenge, as well.
"This novel [project] has been good so far, but the hard part is trying to think of something spectacular to write," said Sevierra, a student. "Of course, at first I was freaking out ... as I got a hang of it now, it is pretty easy."
McDaniel said he wants his students to learn writing can be fun and does not have to be stressful. One day, he might take his students to the auditorium to discover "comfortable writing spaces." The next, he might take them outside and tell them to write what they see and feel "in the moment."
"You have to be relaxed," he said. It's important to set aside time to get it done and to make it a priority, but when things get overwhelming you have to take a break. Let it refresh your mind and body so when you get back into it you're more relaxed."
McDaniel said students have responded to the challenge "phenomenally" and are excited to see their books published. Participating classes are focusing on putting pen to paper this month, and will move on to reviewing and editing in December. Upon completing the challenge, students will be able to design a cover and choose to either publish on Amazon's Kindle or in print.
The challenge is the most memorable part of the class to some, according to McDaniel. He said 50 percent of his students last year said participating in NaNoWriMo was the highlight of their year.
Their books are going to be great in so many different ways — you can't even imagine.
"It's something they're proud of and want to share with others," he said.
His students agreed.
"I really like the idea that I have the chance to write my ideas so that other people can read them," Jimmy, a student, said.
"When we finish we can say that we accomplished writing an entire book. I think it's a good experience," added Robyn, his classmate.
Good experience teach, according to McDaniel. He said the students are going to remember what they have learned from the experience -- how to put ideas on paper, peer review, edit and revise. Just as importantly, they will have learned to have confidence in what they write.
To the students participating in the challenge, having confidence in their own writing is only part of the lesson.
"The book we are writing is about whatever we want it to be," Christopher, a student, said. "We have to write ten chapters ... a lot of students will write more than five pages per chapter, with characters and a plot line and conflict."
"Their books are going to be great in so many different ways — you can't even imagine."