by Nicholas Hayes
October 2016 marks the 5th year of SNL’s Month of Writing (MOW), a celebration and challenge which draws much inspiration from National NovelWriting Month (NANOWRIMO). Each asks participants to devote time to writing in effort to meet a word count goal. In NANOWRIMO, the goal is at least 50,000 words. But for SNL’s Month of Writing, participants set their own goal. It is an endurance challenge. It is a dance marathon, not a dance recital. If you have ever seen They Shoot Horses Don’t They, you get a glimpse of how grueling such a challenge can be. Despite not resulting in the prettiest product, such challenges provided many benefits (if competitors engage in them.)
I did not actively participate in the Month of Writing for several years. As an adjunct instructor working multiple gigs, I had a built in excuses that mirrored Larry Burton’s excuse for not participating in NANOWRIMO. He had a heavy teaching load, research projects, and family obligations. Unfortunately, these obligations never really went away and the novel he wanted to write remained a dream. His daughter (a college student and multiple year NANOWRIMO participant) finally convinced him. His experience taught him many valuable lessons including “scheduling makes [writing] possible” and “progress motivates.”
As a creative writer, I am often reminded that so many great books were written with just a few hundred words every day. I strive for that discipline, but often fall short. So many of our students juggle work and school while they are sandwiched between the demands of the younger and older family members. Burton’s lessons are valuable insights for how to complete longer projects like Advanced Projects or ILPs. Of course, these lessons are taught in Writing Workshop and Writing for Competence (always implicitly, often explicitly.) But Month of Writing is a chance to practice them, to experience them outside of the classroom setting.
Burton’s novel went unwritten for so many years not because of his inability to complete it, but because of the difficulty in starting it, the seeming impossibility to find time for it. This does not surprise me. I have known many graduates of MFA in Writing programs, who have stopped writing since they no longer have the structure of writing classes. The distinction between writing for class and cultivating a writing practice necessary to independently complete writing projects is difficult.
This is why the more non-classroom related support we can provide students the better. Month of Writing provides solid support for participants. They get frequent reminders to keep writing. The requirement to report their weekly word counts is a way to hold them accountable for their writing. This reporting has the additional benefit of making them aware of how much progress they have made toward their goal. Another avenue of support comes from the Writing Center. Students are aware of the one-on-one tutoring services they provide. But they also help facilitate writing groups that meet every two-weeks or every month. Group members not only share their progress, but they receive peer feedback and support on their writing. For students who can not meet in person, arranging online accountability groups could also help complete their projects. The Australian researchers Burke and Settles find that NANOWRIMO participants of online writing challenge groups who engage with socially do better at completing their challenge. We can better facilitate the social component of writing for our students. And to bring this full circle, at the Craft of Composing panel (the kick-off event for MOW), Ann Stanford spoke highly of her accountability group the Grind.
The Month of Writing ends not with the hope of a slackened pace of writing. But with the hope, we can encourage students to access services that will help them keep its spirit alive the other eleven months of the year.
Burke, Moira and Burr Settles. “Plugged in to the Community.” Communities and Technologies. Proc. Of Fifth International Conf. on Communities and Technologies. 29 June – 2 July 2011, QUT at Brisbane, Australia: ACM., 2011. PDF File.
Burton, Larry D. “Lessons from NANOWRIMO.” Journal of Research on Christian Education. 18 (2009): 1-10. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Oct. 2016