The Importance of Story: Our NaNoWriMo Conclusion by Sarah Krajewski

On November 30th, the last day of National Novel Writing Month, I decided to sit down and reflect on how it went. As a teacher participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time, I was disappointed that I didn’t meet my word count goal. I didn’t even come close! And during NCTE 2019, I didn’t write everyday like I hoped to. At the same time, I was proud of how much I did write. I had never written a story of that length before. I never spent so much time planning a story out, and falling in love with my characters, scenes, and their purpose. Most of all, I learned so much about story writing and just being a writer. Yes, I am a writer.

A slides from A.S. King’s NCTE 2019 presentation called “Emotion at the Center: Narrative, Vulnerability, and Community in the English Classroom.”

As I walked back into school on December 2nd, I expected to hear a lot of students sharing they were thankful November was over, but I also had hope that many had the same experience I did. Sure enough, the vast majority of my seniors loved their stories, and many of them now want to continue writing into December. Others shared they were so proud that they made time to write outside of class. (I was not hearing that in the beginning of November!) So, what changed?

My notes from a NCTE 2019 presentation by Kylene Beers, Lester Laminack, Ernest Morrell, and Gholdy Muhammed called “The Joy and Power of Story: Why Raising and Teaching Readers, Storytellers, and Writers Will Change the World.”

My students started seeing themselves as writers. Most of them did not need (or want) my reminders to write. By the end of the month, I was receiving messages from them sharing how proud they were when they wrote. Writing had become a habit, and for many of them, therapeutic. Students fell in love with their characters and stories, and shared them with family and peers. I couldn’t be more proud.

Comments from my seniors as they reflected on their NaNoWriMo experience:

” I have learned to space out my time, and not cram everything together. Taking my time with things will allow the end result to be much more developed and thought out.” – Shymaa

“I am most proud of my progress within the second half of the NaNoWriMo month because I genuinely wanted to write and that is a big step for me.” – Kathleen

“I kind of see the similarities in how I do dialogue to how Jason Reynolds does his dialogue which shows improvement from the last time I tried to write a story…I feel like there’s a lot to pick up from how someone moves, looks, stands or the actions they do in real life and in a novel.” – Torien

“…I can say I am very proud of what I’ve wrote and how much I wrote. I never would have though of myself wanting to write a story of my own but it was something I did enjoy.” – Kiara

“I have plans for the story, to get more done with it. In the end it was just the want, the want is the important part of writing. I learned as a writer if I put my mind to it I can get it done.” – Anonymous

“…maybe there’s a kid who’s going through some stuff, and doesn’t have anywhere to turn to, to vent or talk. Then they go through NaNoWriMo and find the perfect place where they can take all these emotions and put them into something to make them feel  better. It’s definitely a fun and new experience, and I’m glad I got to experience it.” – Kylie

“I’m proud of the relationship that I’ve developed with the two main characters I have…this whole unit made me feel more confident in my writing even though it was a big challenge for me.” – Marisa

“…through this process, I have discovered that I genuinely enjoy writing. It’s a fantastic way to unwind at the end of the day, or to get something off my mind if I need to.” – Ashton

“I learned that when I put time and dedication into writing, I can really write something special.” – Hassan

After looking over their rationales, revisions, and reflections–and wiping away many tears–I know NaNoWriMo will be a staple in my classroom for years to come. My students and I entered nervous and self-conscious about our story-writing abilities, and we came out writers. Now that’s a win in my book.

Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism at Cleveland Hill High School near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. At school, she is known for dedicating her time to helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

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