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Local Students Tackle NaNoWriMo Challenge

Oakdale Junior High School teacher Alexa McConnell is helping 38 students participate in the annual NaNoWriMo writing challenge, which runs through the month of November for all participants and ends with a finished project.

This is the fourth year McConnell has tackled this writing project with students, but with the restrictions of COVID-19, and distance learning, she’s been able to include some high school students as well as junior high.

McConnell shared, “Most of them are Oakdale Junior High students where I teach, but a few are high school freshmen and sophomores who have done NaNo with me in the past and are able to again this year by virtue of distance learning. We meet every day on Google Classroom at lunch to talk about what we’re writing, ask for advice, and share inspiration.”

According to the website, National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

Now, each year on Nov. 1, hundreds of thousands of people around the world begin to write, determined to end the month with 50,000 words of a brand new novel.

NaNoWriMo officially became a nonprofit organization in 2006, with programs that support writing fluency and education. The website hosts more than a million writers, serving as a social network with author profiles, personal project libraries, and writing buddies.

But as most people who start with good intentions at the beginning of November, finishing a novel is hard work. To date, McConnell has had three students cross the finish the line but the process remains rewarding.

McConnell helps the young writers who manage to finish their project self-publish their work on Amazon.

“Students love this challenge every year,” McConnell said. “They get the opportunity to think creatively and attempt an intellectually challenging task that can be a huge accomplishment if they are successful. Many students don’t quite realize how much goes into writing the books they love to read, so inevitably there are always students who give up partway through the month, but many more stick around and try to accomplish as much as they can. Even if they don’t reach their goal, most students love the experience and leave with an attitude of ‘I’ll be back next year’.”

McConnell added, “My favorite part of NaNoWriMo is seeing what the students can accomplish when they set their minds to a goal. Seeing my published authors accomplish their words and then going on to see their pride when they hold a copy of their book for the first time is something very hard to forget. I make a deal with my published authors that if they finish their book, I’ll buy three copies: one for them to keep, one for them to give away (usually to parents), and one that I keep for myself that they have to sign. I also ask that if they ever get published through a publishing house, I get a signed copy of their book. I don’t know if any of these students will stick with creative writing, but I’m so glad to be a part of their learning process if they do.”

As McConnell knows, there’s no telling what the creative spark might ignite and she’s excited to be part of the process for young minds.

In addition to the writing, McConnell helps the students to edit, and design a cover for their finished novella.

For more information on NaNoWriMo, go to the website at: