Saturday / May 25

Students Can Write Novels in 30 Days!

I worked with Yvette King-Berg, an urban school leader, for 20 years in Los Angeles schools. Yvette is the Executive Director of Youth Policy Institute’s Charter Schools (YPI). A primary focus of her leadership is to fully engage students and their families in their academic success.

Last November, the 7th grade teachers at YPI had their students participate in a modified version of the NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. The middle school students were allowed one month in which to write an 8,000-word novel about a personal experience, hope, or dream. Although the YPI students did not submit their modified novels to the NaNoWriMo contest, this incredible best practice can be adapted and replicated during any month of a school year.

Typically, NaNoWriMo program participants are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel from scratch from November 1 through November 30. Upon completion, the participants submit their novels for verification and receive a certificate from The Office of Letters and Light. A common complaint of the program, which has been in existence since 1999, is that the writers’ work is seldom good enough to publish. However, a few good novels have been published from the project entries. By placing such a short limit on the writing time, writers can overcome their fear of writing by meeting the challenge.

YPI parents and students initially expressed concern about the magnitude of the writing project. As the month progressed, students become engaged and committed to their novels’ development. Students, parents, and teachers became enthused about the success of the project. Students reported that they were able to write a significant amount of detail about a topic within a relatively short amount of time. They were impressed with how they could help each other write better using online software editing programs and through peer reviews.

To initiate the project and monitor project milestones, teachers had students complete the following activities chart:

30 Day Project Month Activities Check When Activity Is Completed
Research a topic to complete an 8,000-word novel about a personal experience, hope, or dream.


Outline the novel’s contents.


Complete writing the novel in November.


Peer review and self-edit based on your peer’s feedback.


Use the Hemingway software application for editorial assistance.


Assemble the novel for presentation.




As Yvette and I discussed the strategies used by the teachers, we both became excited about teaching the students how to understand the self-publishing industry. For example, the bloggers self-published four books for children and parents this past year using the CreateSpace Platform through Amazon. Self-publishing typically cannot compete with the professional editing guidance, binding, marketing, and sales support provided by traditional publishers. Our publishing challenge was to market to parents and students within a short time frame. We needed to participate in community book fairs and trainings with relevant materials for our target markets.

Through my networking experiences, I suggested that YPI work with a business partner to professionally self-publish students’ books that could be sold at an upcoming community book fair. A high school recently engaged a book publisher to print a limited number of each student’s novel for a community book fair. When I interviewed the high school authors, they had just completed and published their books or novels for this book fair during the spring semester. They could then use these newly published books as part of their documentation to leverage college scholarships.

When I reviewed the content of these books, I was overcome with emotion. Many students wrote about how they had survived difficult challenges to succeed in school. The four passionate student authors I interviewed had been accepted on scholarships to prominent liberal arts colleges where they would be able to pursue their writing careers. My favorite book was written (and autographed) by a student whose family was forced to move almost yearly due to increasing rent costs. She credited her success to the love of her family and the good fortune to remain at the same school regardless of how many times she was forced to move. My only regret is that I did not buy more books from this student to share with my colleagues.

Please write to us about your successes in helping your students self-publish and tell their stories of survival and success.


Written by

Mary Ann Burke has served as a credentialed parent educator and adjunct professor for over thirty years in California’s schools. Dr. Burke has presented effective parenting and school engagement strategies at numerous state and national parent engagement events. She recently authored a twin book series that includes Yikes! Brandon Has Twin Sisters, Yikes! Brandon and His Sisters Play at the Park, and Yikes Brandon and His Twin Sisters Go to School. Mary Ann is the co-author of Effective Parenting! Capable Kids! She is also the author of four Corwin Press books on parent and community engagement in schools. Mary Ann Burke previously led the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Parent Engagement Initiative that serves as a state model for best practices in parent engagement for culturally diverse families. She creates Common Core State Standards kits for parents to use at home and in their child’s classroom to support children’s literacy and academic readiness skills. Mary Ann is an active grandmother of five grandchildren. She shares this expertise with educators and school leaders as a trainer, author, and curriculum developer.

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