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Creativity on demand in Eagle County

Brooke Macke
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
ALL |

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – There’s nothing like a gun-to-your-head deadline to squeeze creativity out of you.

November was National Novel Writing Month, and 102 local eighth graders wrote an entire novel in 30 days – less time than most of us spend ironing shirts.

Jesslyn Hildred’s and Deb Lehr’s classes were part of NaNoWriMo, an idea they got from the Young Writers Conference in Denver.



NaNoWriMo established the guidelines and Hildred and Lehr, eighth grade teachers at Gypsum Creek Middle School, developed the curriculum. Students created and developed characters, plot, setting, dialogue, voice and everything else that goes with writing novels.

“The thing that matters most in NaNoWriMo is the output,” Hildred said. “The high-velocity approach forces students to forget about the fear of their writing being less than perfect, and instead encourages them to take risks and write on the fly.”



Most works rolled in at between 8,000 and 20,000 words. “The Great Gatsby” is 55,000 words, about the same length as Hemingway’s works.

Students chose their genre, and they ranged widely: science fiction, romance, murder mystery, action, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction … anything they could think of.

By midnight Nov. 30, the 102 young novelists had cranked out more than 1 million words, about 9,800 words per student.



Amber Moreno’s novel is 36,000 words about Sami, a 15-year old girl from Westchester, New York. Sami leaves her childhood home and is unwillingly forced back into her past through her dreams.

Moreno said the best thing about writing the novel was developing the plot and getting to create a world where anything can exist.

“There aren’t any limitations when you’re writing because it’s a world that you get to create,” she said.

Ethan Ellsworth is 11,140 words into his novel and still plugging away. The main character, Randy Wolf, is a struggling 15-year old boy trying to find his way in the world after his father’s death.

The character’s life is further complicated by an outbreak of mutations. Flesh-eating humanoids begin roaming Texas and the entire United States is put on alert. Wolf switches into full survival mode, and trusts no one but himself.

Christian Mayne writes about the government requiring everyone to implant a tiny computer chip in their brains, which causes a computer virus that begins to wipe out humanity. Tony, the main character, rallies a group of rebels.

Hildred, Lehr and permanent substitute teacher Lisa Hildred all cranked out more than 50,000 plus words each.

“Going through the process of writing a novel ourselves gave us credibility with our students, as we shared some of the same struggles throughout the process,” Lehr said. “I think the students took our teaching suggestions to heart because they saw us as writers, too. We were able to model time management and goal-setting for them, as they watched us juggling classes and work responsibilities along with writing our novels.”

They’re revising their work now. Once that’s done, they’ll work on cover design and layout.

The 58 students who completed their novels by Nov. 30 will send their manuscripts away and receive a soft cover copy.

“NaNoWriMo was a great experience for all of us,” Hildred said. “When we started, I felt – and I think the students did as well – that we weren’t really a community of writers, but now we feel safe to share our thoughts and ideas about our writing even before they are refined.”


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