NaNoWriMo – creative writing for kids!


I mentioned earlier on Twitter that I had finally ordered the last few of my writing club’s novels and a few people asked me to explain more about this, so I thought I would blog it!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been going for over ten years and I have been involved with it for 2 years. For adults, the challenge is to write a 50,000 word book in a month (specifically, November). It’s a great challenge because many people have a idea for a novel but without a firm deadline it is very hard to put aside the time needed. The word count initially seems high but you soon realise that it can be done if you put aside an hour or so each day. There are also lots of people all doing the same challenge at the same time which is great to spur you on.

NaNoWriMo is not just for adults – there is also a version for under 18s called the Young Writers’ Programme ( The site allows each young person taking part to sign up to the website, or you can (as I did) sign up as an educator. There is a recommended target word count for each age group but basically each child sets their own target.

I run NaNoWriMo as a writing club over lunchtimes, and this year had over 60 members take part, with targets ranging from 500 words right up to 30,000 for a G&T writer in Year 6. As an educator you get a great kit with a big poster and stickers so that children can chart their progress – and badges for when they achieve their target!

It’s a fab way to enthuse and motivate kids to write outside of normal lesson time. It lets them write about anything they want to and also gets them thinking BIG and writing extended narratives. I’ve had action stories, spy stories, fantasy stories, time travel stories and family issue based dramas! The really GREAT part is that every child who reaches their target gets a free proof copy from CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing wing. What a great prize! Imagine being a published author at the age of 10! WOW!

***Update: Jan 2012****

Unfortunately Createspace have now withdrawn this offer – the proof copy needs to be paid for 😦 However, you can purchase proof copies for around £5 so it could still be possible for the children to publish their books – it’s just more problematic. A real shame.

Now to how to organise things:

1) Before November begins, set up the club. Get the kids thinking about their stories. There are some excellent workbooks on the YWP site that have character and plot planning sheets you could use.

2) Set up your educator account on the site well in advance so you get your package of goodies!

3) Set up a template for the children to write on in Word. This will save you a LOT of time later. My preferred “trim size” when printing has always been 5 x 8, which in metric works out to a page size of 12.7 x 20.3. Set the margins to 1cm. Also add page numbers centred in the footer at this point. I also like to put reminders on this file for the children: I leave page 1 blank, put “Title by Author” on page 3, “Dedication” on page 5 and “Start writing here” on page 7. The word file is basically the interior of the book.

4) Make sure you set the template to a read only file so when club starts each child will save their own version. Incidentally, if you are using Google Docs so the children can work from home, it will not be set up that way for them, but they can always copy and paste into the template later.

5) Write write write!

6) When the children finish, get them to proof read their work. This includes making sure nothing (word art, clip art) is intruding into your 1cm margin or your file will get rejected. Also check to make sure that all the new chapters begin on an odd numbered page as all new chapters start on the right hand side. Something you don’t notice normally but you will notice it if you don’t do it! Also, every file has to be at least 24 pages long, with an even number of pages, and no more than ten blank pages in a row.

7) At the end of November, contact the YWP by email and tell them how many winners you have! (A winner is anyone who completes their target)

8) Start an account on CreateSpace so you can publish the books. Some people like to send home a letter to parents detailing copyright issues and assuring them their child’s intellectual property is secured, etc. That is up to you. Also, if children would like the chance to actually sell their own books on Amazon or CreateSpace’s website, they will need to get their parents to set up the account.

9) Start a new title for each new project. The children then get the really fun part of designing their own cover!!! You can upload photos or use the ones already on their website. Could be a good time to discuss copyright and Creative Commons!

10) Use a free PDF converter such as Primo PDF to convert the Word files into PDFs that can be uploaded as the interior file of the book. Make sure the name the child has put on the cover matches the name that is on the interior file. Surprising how often they are different!!!

11) You need to fill in lots of details on the CreateSpace website such as price, BISAC code, description etc. Most of this is just for use if you were going to sell commercially so don’t worry about it too much, as long as you put something in each box.

12) Once the cover is ready, submit it for review. If they are happy with everything you can order your proof! Here is where you put in the code that you have been sent for a free copy. I like to keep all mine in a spreadsheet so I can keep track of which child has used which code.

13) A few weeks later a very exciting parcel will arrive and you will be able to present a super excited child with their very own copy of their very own professionally printed book! YAAAAY!!!!!

If you have any questions please do ask me in the comments. 🙂


4 responses »

  1. Thanks so much for a detailed how to do it. I’m hoping to get this set up for my school and this is a great set of simple instructions even I can do!!!

  2. Sounds brilliant! I have done NaNo as an adult (never won!) but never tried it in the classroom. You have given a great insight into it and now it is on my list for next term! Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Subject resources, links to sites with good ideas for lessons « Gill's thoughts and reflections . . .

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