So, your young writer has decided to take the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Hooray! We have an exciting month ahead of us. But you might have already run into a bit of a snag: selecting a word-count goal. Adults and older teens stick to the goal of 50,000 words in thirty days, but under the young writers program, students choose their own goals with the help of their teacher or parent. The program provides a chart with suggested goals by grade, but I find their suggestions way, way off. Painfully low, in fact. So it becomes a guessing game. What's my child's ability level? I want her to push herself, but how much is too much? Will she become discouraged? Will she hit a low count and decide she's finished anyway? Luckily, the low word-count goal two years ago didn't stop my daughter; she continued writing until she was done. But, it felt like such a waste of time coming up with that number in the first place.
The other option is to think about the type of book they're writing, and adjust for first draft expectations. For instance, depending on genre, an adult novel generally ranges from 75,000-100,000 words, but the first draft NaNoWriMo goal is only 50,000. That's fine for a draft-in-a-month. You can expect to flesh out characters and settings and adding additional scenes during rewrites.
Now, I have a 9 yr old, and she's writing a middle-grade book, like the stories she's reading now. Middle-grade fiction typically falls in the 25,000-40,000 word count range. Following the same formula as the adult NaNoWriMo word goal, an appropriate first draft goal for this sort of book would fall somewhere around 16,000-17,000 words.
Keep in mind, the true intention of the challenge is to write a complete story in a month. Beginning, middle, and end. Instead of a word-count goal, consider setting the goal of completing a story. You might ask yourself, "What if my kid only writes a hundred words and says he/she is done for the month." Well, that's a possibility, but at that point you have to ask yourself if this was really a project they wanted to complete in the first place. Child or adult, NaNoWriMo should not be taken on as some sort of class assignment. This kind of project requires motivation and focus. You have to want to complete the challenge. Or at least put a good effort into it. A hundred words from a ten year old is a pretty good indication this project wasn't their idea or that they learned a valuable lesson: they enjoy reading stories more than writing them. And honestly, that's a pretty valuable lesson, too.
This year, we're ditching the word-count goal for my daughter. Instead, she's going to focus on writing a well-developed story with a three-act structure (more on that tomorrow). If she pushes herself and focuses on character development and goals and all of those things that make a great story, then she should probably end up with a draft of 10,000-20,000 words. Ideally. But since neither of us count the words in a book to decide if we like it or not, I would much rather have her work on character and plot development than filling a page with words.
For those of you who have young writers participating in NaNoWriMo, how are you picking a word-count goal? Are they selecting one for themselves? Are you using the suggestions on the NaNoWriMo website? Please share any goals your young writers have set for themselves next month.