Middle School Adventures in Novel Writing, Day 2

Belly Flops and The Talking Highlighter

Previous post: Day 1

Five sets of eyes watched me walk into class. They’re already comfortable with me, which makes me five kinds of happy.

I reached into my well-loved NOWD bag and pulled out this jar:

The silence is immediate, gorgeous, and anticipatory.

Then, I heard just above a whisper:

“I love jelly bellies.”

“Are they jelly bellies or belly flops?”

“They’re belly flops,” I said, “and they go with this.” I pull out an ordinary orange highlighter. “this is a special highlighter.”

McMuffins exclaimed, “It’s a talking highlighter!”

“Yes!” I love that he’s already hooked. “We won’t have many rules in this club. But we are all so enthusiastic about our novels, that we need a no-interruptions rule. If you are holding the highlighter …”

“…You get to talk!” answered McMuffins.

“You’re each allotted 15 belly flops. For every interruption, one belly flop gets deducted from the count.”

“Can it be more than 15?” someone asked.

“Okay, twenty,” I smiled. “And you have to bust yourself on interrupting. If you talk and don’t have the highlighter, you have to go write a check mark on the board next to your name.”

“Can we have more rules?” McMuffins rushed up to a white board and grabbed a marker.

“Sure,” I said, amused.

I had been nervous about today’s club, with a hectic week and no planned agenda. But my job isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be a yes to these young men and their creativity. I just need to believe in them.

I arrived at the club with four items I wanted to cover, and a willingness to be flexible in how they got done.

The second rule came organically, how do we acknowledge someone when we agree with their idea? Three ideas stood out:

  • with a word, like saying “cool”;
  • with a gesture, like a thumbs up, or
  • with an audible, non-verbal sound like snapping

“What do we do if we disagree?” someone asked.

“That gives rise to rule #3: no nay-saying on anyone’s ideas,” I said. “This is actually the most important rule of all. In this club, every idea you might write about is a good idea.”

We signed into the new Young Writer’s Program website and chose our usernames. My boys loved the chat feature.

I had one last thing to do today: a timed writing exercise, to inform our word counts.

I set my phone’s timer. “Ten minutes and, go! If you need a prompt,” I paused, thinking quickly, “write your character’s first memory.”

Keyboard clicking began, whereas I stalled, chastising myself. You should know how to do this by now, Julie. Uh-oh. My inner editor, piping in where she isn’t wanted. What do I write about? Oh! My prompt! Then the idea appeared. Not a great idea, not a Pulitzer idea, but an idea.

And what’s my rule for NaNo?

Right. No editing.

The ten minutes finishes, and I show them how to get their word count from Google Docs.

“Before we talk about word count goals, I want to show you something.”

I pull up a Google doc, where I had pasted the writing from my NaNoWriMo secret weapon. “What do you notice?”

“Look at all the red underlines, the misspelled words.”

“Exactly. In November, I don’t edit. At all.”

“I couldn’t do that,” one said.

“Try not to edit your ideas,” I offered. “Clean up your spelling if you want, or grammar, but don’t delete anything major.”

I moved on before their inner critics got too noisy. We talked about word count goals for the month.

  • 3,000 words = 100/day
  • 5,000 words = 167/day
  • 10,000 words = 333/day

We fill out the YWP novel log with our word counts. “Write yours,” Silver Knight said. I looked up before writing: 50,000.

“That’s the adult goal,” someone whispers, with reverence.

“We’ll see how I do this year,” I said. I tried not to think about everything on my plate for November besides writing a novel.

“Don’t give up yet!” Silver Knight encouraged.

“You’re right,” I smile. This is why we do NaNoWriMo with others, I thought, so when we feel like giving up, someone tells us to continue.

NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program

By the way … the talking highlighter had magical powers. During the rest of the club time, only two boys interrupted, once each.

Next: Day 3