Sherwood Charter School students take shot at NaNoWriMo writing

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO IN GOOD COMPANY — Students at Sherwood Charter School were part of a nationwide group participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month, where writers attempt to write a novel in 30 days (students determine how many words they want to write). A past winner was Sara Gruen, author of “Water for Elephants.”

The expression 'NaNoWriMo' was heard frequently among students at Sherwood Charter School throughout the month of November as more than a dozen of them participated in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.

The annual Internet-based creative writing project challenges adults to write 50,000 words of a new novel between Nov. 1 and 30, while students in grades K-12 can participate in the Young Writers Program and choose how many words they want to attempt to write.

The project originally was started in July 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty with only 21 participants, and by 2010, it had grown to more than 200,000 people who wrote more than 2.8 billion words. The Young Writers Program started in 2005, and teachers can register their classes and receive kits filled with materials as well as get lesson plans and ideas to help their students.

Writers register on the project's website,, where word counts are validated. Participants can plan their novels and make notes before midnight Oct. 31 but cannot actually start writing until Nov. 1.

Project participants must stop writing at midnight Nov. 30 and submit their novels, and any adult who hits the 50,000 word mark is a winner; writers are free to finish their novels after the deadline.

A number of novels written during NaNoWriMo have been published, and some, including 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen and 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern, have been on bestseller lists.

Lindsey Cassidy is a new teacher at Sherwood Charter School this year, moving here from Alaska to teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade English plus English intervention.

She admitted that she hadn't heard of NaNoWriMo until last fall: 'I was part of an online network of English teachers and published teachers to get ideas and participate in discussions, and starting in late September, everyone was talking about NaNoWriMo,' she said.

Cassidy looked into it, discussed it with Principal Jan Smith and held an informational lunch for students who were interested.

'Two students did it on their own last year, and that helped a lot,' Cassidy said. 'But it was brand new to me and the school.'

Students set their own word goals, which ranged from 3,000 to 10,000, 'but most hit their goal after the first half of the month,' Cassidy said. 'It's all about hitting the word count - not about finishing the novel or editing.

'We had 16 or 17 students doing this, and a lot of them have shared their novels with their friends, who read them, make comments and added to the story. They really have developed a following. It's been a good collaborative process.'

Many students used Google Docs, which is a free, web-based site that allows people to create and edit documents online and collaborate with each other.

NaNoWriMo students met in Cassidy's classroom every Tuesday during November at lunchtime to strategize and problem-solve, and they also could work on their projects in her classroom after school on Wednesdays until 6 p.m.

Did Cassidy herself participate in NaNoWriMo?

'I didn't have time,' she said.