Revising a Narrative


Now that NaNoWriMo is over, a LOT of people are revising the novels they just finished writing. Revising is a difficult skill to teach. I’ve told students that revising is changing the words to make it better. That helps them understand, but it really doesn’t tell them what to do.

I’ve heard of teachers who tell students to write down the first word of every paragraph looking for too many repetitions, or to count the words in each sentence to make sure there are both long and short sentences. Nothing kills a joy of writing faster than these drills.

The reality is that most writers have a hard time looking at their writing objectively. It’s very clear in your head, so why isn’t the reader getting it? Or you write a scene you love that doesn’t further the story. It hurts to cut them out. What all writers need is an honest voice to give them feedback. In the classroom, I use the students’ peers to do this. They read each other’s stories and tell the author what works as well as what doesn’t. They’ve all written their own novels, so they have a good feel for missing description or unclear dialogue. Notes the reader makes on the story are very helpful to the author.

It’s also important for the author to distance themselves from the novel for awhile. Wait until the pressure of finishing and the euphoria of completion have faded. You will be in a much better position to revise. I catch myself wondering why in the world I ever thought that chapter was done!

When you are revising, it’s difficult to tell when you are finished. In reality, you are never finished. It can always be made better. It’s your piece, though, so you have to decide when it’s good enough to turn in. With students, I have to train them to raise their personal expectations a bit higher. Otherwise, they would turn it in with zero revisions!

I tell my students that I spent seven years revising and rewriting my first book. If I ask them to revise a story again, I don’t want to hear any complaining!


NaNoWriMo Winner!

2013 winnerIt’s not the first time I’ve become a National Novel Writing Month winner, but it’s no less intoxicating! Fifty thousand words in one month is something I can be proud of.

At school, the first trimester ends the first week of November. That means grading final projects, tests, and other work then doing report cards. Parent conferences are held the third week of November, plan twenty minutes for each of thirty parents. Then a week off work for Thanksgiving (yes, this is where I catch up), but I spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning, and being with family. If I can find time during this busy month to write 50,000 words, then surely I can find time to write more regularly all the time.

A lot of people who enjoy writing during NaNoWriMo readily admit that what comes out is junk. I’m actually pretty proud of my novel, Under the Wild and Darkening Sky. It’s definitely a rough draft that will have to be revised, polished, revised again, but the bare bones are there. I have all but three chapters of it completed, and I’m motivated to finish it.

As usual (for five years in a row), my students participated in NaNoWriMo with me. Always before we have come back from Thanksgiving vacation with a day or two still left in November to make sure everyone reaches their word count and validates their novel. As I write this, it’s November 30 at 1:15 in the afternoon and I still have eleven students who have not done this. Some are at 100% and haven’t validated for the win. Some aren’t even at 100% yet. I can email, send NaNo mail, and shout at my computer, but it’s basically out of my hands. I have to trust that they’ll remember! Everyone send mental vibes out to my students: TODAY IS THE LAST DAY!


About Writing, Narrative

National Novel Writing Month


National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is well under way in my classroom. This is the fifth year I have undertaken this event with a class. It is an incredible experience for the students!

During October, students plan their novel. When November 1 dawns, they leap into the novel. This is only November 6, and they are still typing madly into the computer. Most adults are used to composing as they word process, but this is a new experience for my students. Usually they are required to type from a handwritten rough draft.

Next week their enthusiasm will begin to fade. NaNoWriMo is about stamina. It is a marathon rather than a sprint. Students will encourage each other and me (my word goal is 50,000 words!) and celebrate each 10% completed.

By the third week, fingers will hurt and brains will be tired of writing. We will have to push each other to hit each milestone.

The fourth week is Thanksgiving week. Some students will be going on a trip, others will be busy with family and food. In past years, the last day or two of November fell on the Monday or Tuesday of the week following Thanksgiving. This will be the first year that my students will be responsible on their own to validate their novels on November 30. I hope they all remember!

December, which seems so far away at this time, is a time for celebrating our novels and polishing them into shape. Accomplishing a novel in a month is an extremely empowering event. It gives confidence to students that they normally wouldn’t have. That is why I participate in National Novel Writing Month each year with my students. It’s worth it!

So far, almost a week in, my students have written 92,996 words! All but one met their 20% goal today, and many are already 40% or 50% done. I’m only at 20% on my own novel, so I’d better get writing! I can’t have my students beat me!

Keep track of my NaNoWriMo progress here.

About Writing

NaNoWriMo 2012

In just five and a half short hours, National Novel Writing Month begins. This will be the fourth year I have participated in NaNoWriMo, all four times with my class of eager students. Well, that first group wasn’t very eager–they were pretty terrified. Three years, though, and all but one of those students finished their novels. Me, too. That sets a lot of pressure on me for this year!

My newest crop of students are a combo class. That means I have 18 sixth graders and 11 fifth graders. They are very independent workers and very good writers. I am looking forward to watching their fingers fly over the keyboards and their brains smoking as they whip out their novels. NaNoWriMo says a sixth grader should be able to write 10,000 words during the month of November. Last year my sixth graders averaged 20,000 words, so there’s some pressure on the kids this year, too.

Former students also participate in NaNoWriMo, often on their own without the encouragement of a teacher. Last year a former student did NaNoWriMo with her high school Creative Writing Club. This year a younger former student started a NaNoWriMo club at the middle school. I am so proud of these kids!

I need to remind parents that they, too, can participate in NaNoWriMo. As an adult, the word count goal is firmly set at 50,000 words. That means 1,362 words a day. Every day of November. To put this in perspective, one typed page is about 250 words. So do you have a novel that is screaming to get out of your head? Ever wanted to dabble in writing? Now is the time to try it! Parents of my students are welcome to write along with us. I’ve only had one parent commit to this in three years. Yes, it’s a huge commitment, but the exhiliration of finishing will carry you into the new year!

For more info on students, go to: ywp.nanowrimo.org

For adults: nanowrimo.org

About Writing

Interview on NaNoWriMo Blog

October always means it’s time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Since my NaNoWriMo novel was published last summer, the Office of Letters and Light (a.k.a. the people in charge of NaNoWriMo) interviewed me for their blog. Here is the link to the interview, which includes tips for getting ready to write novels this November as well as the story of my own novelling experience.


In hardback: Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

About Writing

Satisfaction With Your Own Writing

Students, journalists, novelists–in fact anyone at all who writes–experience that moment when the piece is done and you never want to look at it again. NaNoWriMo is no exception. While I have completed 50,000 words on my new novel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER, it is far from complete. I typed the last word on November 29 and I haven’t looked at it since. My students feel the same way. They have written more on one assignment than they ever have in their lives, and they are sick of it.

The initial excitement of tackling a novel has long since faded to hard work. Now that it’s completed, they are proud of it but unwilling to revise and edit. As we all know, those are key steps. And I am not going to read thirty-one unedited novels! So the question remains, how do I fire their excitement once more about this project?

Professional cover artist Tirzah Goodwin is helping me this year. She has agreed to provide each student with a free custom cover for their novel. We can print the cover and attach it to the student’s work, and Tirzah will feature the covers on her website. So do you want to see them? Check out A Clever Whatever, her blog site.

If you’re a current student of mine, oooh and ahhh over your cover, then get back to revising and editing!

On my Kindle: Here, There, and Otherwhere by Phyl Manning

About Writing

NaNoWriMo Week Three

Those of you who have participated in National Novel Writing Month before are asking, “Why is she writing about week THREE? Week TWO need lots more encouragement than Week Three!” You are absolutely correct. Week Two is a nightmare. Week Two is harder than cooking dinner for a houseful of family on Thanksgiving. Week Two is about sore wrists and frustration and maybe a few whining comments to a confused spouse. Week Three is much more fun.

So last week, when I should have been writing encouraging words for your second week of NaNo, I was compiling report cards, planning for parent conferences, carrying off a super NaNoWriMo kickoff, and entertaining a reporter in my classroom (she wrote a wonderful article about NaNo!). All of this left me 5,000 words behind in my own novel as of this morning. Yup, Week Two can be devastating.

On Friday, the local Evergreen Times came out with a wonderful article about our kickoff written by San Jose City Councilmember Rose Herrera. She dropped in at our kickoff and talked to some of the 60 young writers who attended. She was very impressed! Then this morning, the terrific article by reporter Sharon Noguchi of the San Jose Mercury News ran on the front page of the Local section. Both of these community members were very impressed by the work of our sixth graders, and the fourth and sixth graders at aother school.

Thrilled with both articles, I posted them on Facebbook and they went as viral as anything I have posted. Both were reposted a half dozen times, and comments flew across cyberspace. With that kind of positive press, I HAD to catch up on my own 2011 novel! So I began typing.

And I did it. I’m now at 21,674 words (with a goal of 50,000)! That gets me caught up. It was a marathon day of writing and recognition, and I wish the same for all of you who are toiling away at a NaNo novel. Rejoice in each level of achievement!

From now on, it’s easy. You have so much of your novel completed, how can you possibly stop now? Pour yourself another cup of coffee (or mug of hot chocolate) and keep plugging away at it. You’ve turned the corner, and the rest is downhill. Goal: 50% completion by November 15!

On my Kindle: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt


About Writing

Proof Copy Arrives

Here it is, a sneak peak at this year’s NaNoWriMo anthology cover.  Last year’s students, do you remember that sense of awed wonder as you first held Novel Central in your hands?  I well remember the hushed silence when I held it up, as if you were all holding your breath.  The rest of the year, the excited pride you had in that fat volume of stories thrilled me.

This year, my students worked just as hard and had the same look of anticipation on their faces.  I crave that look!  It makes it all worthwhile: the preparation, the writing, the technical nightmares, the pushing slow writers, and more than anything the hours and hours and hours of editing.

Novel Central, Volume 2 is a little bigger overall and maybe a touch thinner.  It holds 29 wonderful novels.  My current students are in the process of proofing to make sure everything is perfect before we publish it to Amazon, so stay tuned for that bulletin!  This year’s price is $21.95, so save your nickels and dimes.

Six of this year’s students represented the class at a Thank Goodness it’s Over! celebration at Booksmith bookstore in San Francisco in January.  Three of them read a piece of their story to the crowd, and the stories were very well received.  I don’t know who was prouder, their parents or me.  All six got to take a picture with Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, and they talked to Chris Angotti, the director of NaNo’s Young Writers’ Program, who visited our classroom in November to encourage everyone to keep writing.  Currently, I am planning an autograph party at Barnes & Noble Bookstore for early June.  Want to meet the young authors and hear them talk about their accomplishment, and maybe thrill them by buying an autographed book?  Watch this space for a date and time.

Looking back over two years of participating in National Novel Writing Month, I am so pleased that I would never consider doing anything else in November.  So if you find yourself in my class next year, be prepared.  November is for novels.

What do you think, current and past students?  Would you do NaNo again?  And future students?  If you find yourself in my class, will you be scared? nervous? excited? eager?

On my Kindle: Pegasus by Robin McKinley

About Writing


Monday is November 15, and that means we will be halfway through National Novel Writing Month.  This year I am participating with my 30 fifth graders, another teacher and her 32 sixth graders, assorted sixth graders who did NaNo with me last year, and a parent of a current student.  Two teachers at a nearby school caught the NaNo fever from me and have corrupted their classes, too.  The noveling madness spreads!

So what does halfway through mean?  To me, it means hands that are sore from typing.  It means fighting to stay strong enough to keep my inner editor boxed up so I can’t hear him laughing at my paltry noveling.  It means encouraging my students, some of whom are falling far behind.  Most of all, it means writing.

I have thought of myself as a serious writer now for about four years, and a serious writer writes.  I know I need to spend some time thinking about scenes, planning story arcs, and considering character traits, but I also must write.  At workshops the teachers repeatedly tell us that real writers make time to write every day, even if it’s just for an hour.  An hour a day?  That would be heaven.

I teach fifth grade full time.  I shop for groceries and cook dinner every night.  I grade papers and do lesson plans.  Weekends are full of trips to Costco, the cleaners, the gym, and the coffee shop.  Then there is the house to clean, the laundry to do, the yard to trim.  My husband is an amazing help, but it is neverending if you are a homeowner, a parent, and a teacher.

A little over a year ago, I made a commitment to go to the gym.  I’d not been feeling well, but after a clean bill of health from my doctor I decided I needed to stay healthy.  I changed my eating habits and started going to the gym six days a week.  I lost twenty pounds, and I’ve kept it off.  I’m still eating right, and still getting to the gym about four days a week.  One little decision about something important to me; that’s all it took.

So if writing is important to me, and it is, why does it take something like NaNoWriMo to actually make me write every day?  I enjoy writing much more than an hour in the gym–you’d think I’d be eager to write.  People who have read my novels enjoy them and continually ask when the next one will be done, or when they will be published.  I have to tell them I am still revising, still polishing, still changing the story to make it better.

I enjoy the process so much, is the end product important?  Will I ever truly finish my books?  That’s important, too, the finishing.  Holding that published tome in your hand, admiring your name on the cover; there’s no feeling like it I’m sure.  Someday I will know that feeling.

But for now, I need to get back to my NaNo novel!

How’s yours coming?

On my Kindle: Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson


Help! I Need a NaNo Plot!

Actually, I don’t need a plot myself, but I know some of my students are panicking.  Others have just decided they will do NaNoWriMo this November and are scrambling for ideas.  I live to be helpful, so here are some ideas!  Feel free to use or modify any that appeal to you.

Start by thinking of relationships and personalities you see around you every day and brainstorm a list. Examples: mother and daughter, best friends, teacher and student, brother and sister, grandfather and grandson.

Now think about what can happen to these people.  What kind of conflicts exist between them?  Make sure the event you come up with is a major confrontation of epic proportions–something really important.  For example, a really good student is paired with a student who never does homework for a major project.  The teacher insists they work together.

Next, envision how you want your story to end.  Your main character should learn something, should show a change as a result of what they experience in your story.  Maybe at the end of your story the project comes out well and the good student is proud.

So now go back to the beginning.  Plan the setting and the details of the relationships between the students and the teacher.  Plan distinct events that lead up to the project presentation, events that increasingly frustrate your main character.  Then plan the falling action–what happens after the project is presented?

The events are easy to come up with once you have your basic idea.  Again, how do you come up with your basic idea?  Start with what you know, with relationships and situations that are familiar to you.  With that basis, you can make the characters elves or wizards or vampires or dogs.  The reader will still be able to identify with the situation, and that’s what’s important.


So what situations can you come up with?  Let’s help each other out!

Days until NaNoWriMo: 5