Writing up a storm

Students try to write a novel in a month


From left to right, students Sam Gilstrap and Caroline Jiang work with English teacher Devan Manning to try write a novel by the end of the month through National Novel.

Varsha Ravi, Managing Editor

An empty coffee cup balances on a sheaf of stained notes on the edge of your table as you squint at the messy word document that’s become your home for the past month. 

The word count crawls by, until finally, you hit the magic number: 50,000.

A handful of Cal High students are living this writing reality as National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is in full swing. 

“As high school students, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to do creative writing,” English teacher Devan Manning said. “People are very creative but there’s just not always enough time for them to carve out time in their day to actually sit down and write.” 

But NaNoWriMo helps writers to make time to write.

The NaNoWriMo website, which doubles as a nonprofit, encourages writers to complete a 50,000 word manuscript throughout the month of November. The annual writing marathon has amassed a considerable global following over the years, including a small group of students in Room 318. 

Manning has been hosting after-school meetings in her classroom for writers looking for a quiet place to crack down and meet their writing goals. 

A NaNoWriMo participant  since high school, Manning is excited to bring the sense of community and the freeform elements of NaNoWriMo to campus. 

“I think I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and so NaNoWriMo gives me permission to not worry about that,” Manning said. “As I learned later, it’s easier to edit and change a page that has words on it than it is to edit and change something that has no words on it.”

Fifty thousand words can seem indomitable as a goal. But the truth of the matter is that NaNoWriMo is different for each writer, and only serves as motivation. 

“I think the very best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it is very self driven,” said Manning , who isn’t trying to write 50,000 words. “I’m doing 20,000 words. I’ve decided for myself, if I reach that mark, I will feel very successful.” 

The NaNoWriMo website offers a myriad of resources to inspire writers and keep them on track throughout November, such as goal trackers, badges, and forums to troubleshoot with other writers. 

“The support of the community, as well as the prompts you can get from friends or people online, on the website, are really helpful when you’re writing, especially when you’re trying to write so much in so little time,” sophomore Sam Gilstrap said. 

Senior Sydney Wong learned about NaNoWriMo this year in Manning’s composition class.  Wong, who’s been interested in creative writing since middle school, jumped at the opportunity to tackle a more structured project and challenge herself in the process. 

“I find consistent daily progress really appealing and the most effective when wanting to get any goal done,” Wong said. “So, NaNoWriMo provides just that to kickstart and hopefully follow through with an unrealized writing project.”

Since the weighty word count goal can often be seen as difficult to overcome because of the already stressful lives most students lead, a quiet place to write can sometimes make all the difference. For some, this can mean a reason to actually reach their daily word count.

“I think it’s good because it gives people an opportunity and motivation to do it, because if you’re sitting at home trying to do it alone, it doesn’t work out,” junior Abby Nguyen said. 

Attempting NaNoWriMo at school can also make the entire ordeal less intimidating. With the encouragement and support of their peers, can bring it down from 50,000 words in a month to a fun project.

“I’ve been able to talk out a lot of ideas,” Gilstrap said. “That’s so much easier to do in person than just with people online.”

Some students consider themselves NaNoWriMo veterans, having participated in the event for several years. Junior Izzy Belof, also a reporter for The Californian, is one of them. 

“It definitely motivates me to put some time aside to write, and also reminds me just how passionate I am about writing,” Belof said. 

Manning added, “I think if anybody’s interested in trying to write, this is kind of a good way to just start, and really, really have that permission to not be good at it, but to do it anyway.  Because I feel like that’s what most of us need. If we have an idea, we just need to do it.”