Herding Cats, With Pencils and Word Processors

Although I’m wise enough to recognize that this is not going to be the year that I write 50,000 words toward a novel’s first draft, I was pretty pleased to once more be behind the wheel of my school’s Young Writers Program for National Novel Writing Month.

progress charts

This is the fifth or sixth year (I forget exactly) that I’ve run the YWP, and I’d had aspirations of simplifying the whole mess and putting more of the responsibility on the shoulders of the participants. In the end, I just can’t let go of the control I like to have over its (relatively) smooth execution, so once again I’m up to my eyeballs in charts, mailers, and milestone prizes. Admittedly, I make this all MUCH harder on myself than strictly necessary. Most YWP advisors are running it for a class, with about 30 participants to keep track of. Each participant earns a sticker for each 10% toward his/her goal, and then you win a button at the end. NaNoWriMo achieved.

But where’s the fun in that? So instead, I aggressively recruit schoolwide, ending up with about 100 participants (my highest was about 130; this year is my smallest group, with just under 90 kids) and set up an elaborate program that keeps them excited about recreational/quasi competitive writing. I invest time and money in extra prizes, and tend to keep the hallways well-worn with encouraging notes. We do t-shirts, an end-of-event party, the whole nine yards.

This year, I’m skipping the after-school write-ins (which involve time, energy, and candy) in lieu of providing ten lunch passes for kids to come in and type after they eat. And I’m cutting back on deliveries by creating a mailbox system, leaving it up to the kids to pick up the majority of their notes and prizes as the month goes on. This is the innovation that excited and terrified me the most, but it seems to be working pretty well. That’s the benefit to doing this out of a library instead of a classroom; I actually have a public space that is accessible to the entire school.

setupI’m SUPER excited about the prizes I have this year. I found a place that makes customized pencils, and a place that makes customized silicone bracelets, very quickly and inexpensively. On top of that, I’ve been collecting leftover buttons from past YWPs for the past few years, and have enough to give them out as milestone prizes this year. I’ll likely wipe out my supply, but I figure if I do a really stellar job with this in 2013, I might be able to parlay that into some additional funding for next year and buy more customized prizes.

prizesOne of the things I really love about this program is how it is accessible and fun and rewarding to pretty much any kid. I’ve got some really brilliant kids involved in this — you’re going to attract GT students with this sort of event — but some of my most excited writers are kids who previously didn’t have a venue to feel successful and included in the school. We’re talking kids with very limited English, or kids in almost entirely special education classes and very low academic ability. Then there’s the “freaks and geeks,” which believe me, I say with the ABSOLUTE highest affection, because they are my tribe. I just love how this event embraces the kids who may not be great students, who certainly aren’t great athletes, and gives them a community and a chance to win just by doing something that they love.

So yeah, I’m going to be a frazzled nutcase this month. But it will be worth it. šŸ™‚