Guest post: NaNoWriMo and young writers

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Brent Acuff is a middle school band director in Hutto, TX. This is his fifth year participating in NaNoWriMo and his second year mentoring a Young Writer’s Program.

I have read a lot lately about the decline of handwriting in public schools. Being a teacher in a public school myself, I would tend to agree with that statement. But I think that assumption is a little misleading. While it is true that handwriting, the act of putting pen to paper and learning to write in cursive is no longer taught in public schools, the art of writing a story is still alive and well.

I have participated in the yearly event that is NaNoWriMo for the last five years. That wonderful, sleep deprived month in which a few hundred thousand amateur, and even professional writers, tap furiously at their keyboards striving to meet a word count. Being a fan of fine pens and journals for some time, I struggle each year with the dilemma of setting aside these utensils for the necessity of the word processor. But for the other eleven months of the year you’ll find me hunched over a journal, fountain pen in hand.

My students find this fascinating. Several times each year I am asked the question, “What kind of pen is that?” and “Why are you always writing in a diary?” I can’t tell you how hard it is to explain to middle school kids that it is a journal, NOT a diary. When I explain to them that I am writing a book, their response is, gratefully, “That’s cool.” My question for them is always, “Why don’t you write one too?”

Enter the NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, and the point of this post. I am pleased to say that the school where I teach, Hutto Middle School, is currently in their second year participating in the Young Writer’s Program. And the kids are excited about writing! Each day these young kids come into the classroom, excited to share their stories and current word counts. Each student sets their own word count goal. It is amazing to watch as they set their initial count, then push that goal higher and higher as their words pile up. It is infinitely gratifying as an educator and amateur writer myself to watch these students create something of their own.

And the students’ excitement has not stopped with their own stories. After reaching out to the writing community at large, several fine writing suppliers have graciously donated supplies for these writers. Much more than I ever could have expected. I never would have believed the look on these students faces when I opened the boxes to show them what was inside. Kids excited about pens, pencils, and journals?

After my experiences this year and last, I believe we need to revise our thoughts on kids and writing. To steal a sentiment from the great conductor Benjamin Zander, students are excited about and love to write… they just don’t know it yet! I invite everyone in the writing community to share their passion for the art of writing. It has certainly been an extraordinary experience for me.

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