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Wonks, Marathoners, and Storytellers: Describing the Participatory Culture of NaNoWriMo

Wonks, Marathoners, and Storytellers: Describing the Participatory Culture of NaNoWriMo



Presentation created for my Ph.D. dissertation defense (June 2013)

Presentation created for my Ph.D. dissertation defense (June 2013)



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  • Citations for Participant Observations???

Wonks, Marathoners, and Storytellers: Describing the Participatory Culture of NaNoWriMo Wonks, Marathoners, and Storytellers: Describing the Participatory Culture of NaNoWriMo Presentation Transcript

  • Wonks, Storytellers, and Marathoners: Describing the Participatory Culture of NaNoWriMo Kelly L. Jones Tift College of Education Mercer University
  • Background of the Study  Intersection of informal learning and ICTs  Schubert‟s (2008) outside curriculum model  Adult learners  Extracurricular writing groups (Gere, 1987)  Digital extracurriculum (Shultz, 2011) 50,000 Words One Goal 30 Days
  • Statement of the Problem  The number of adults in higher education is increasing, but many lack required writing skills. For some, college writing is irrelevant or less meaningful than self-sponsored writing. Technology opens new spaces and platforms that motivate and support creative writing outside of school, but extracurricular writing is not often valued by instructors.  College students compose in many forms outside of school, but instructors cannot incorporate these experiences into postsecondary curriculum unless they are aware of these literary activities and understand the value they may have in the teaching of writing.  National Novel Writing Month is an international, extracurricular writing group with hundreds of thousands of participants. However, there is a gap in the research literature concerning NaNoWriMo.
  • Purpose of the Study  The purpose of this study was to describe National Novel Writing Month and to investigate the experiences, perceptions, and literary activities of participants.  This study sought to address Yancey‟s (2009b) call for research on 21st century writing while addressing a gap in the research literature concerning NaNoWriMo and contributing to the knowledge base of online qualitative research methodology.
  • Theoretical Framework Kaleidoscope
  • Research Questions  How do participants describe their National Novel Writing Month experiences?  How might these experiences inform postsecondary curriculum and instruction?
  • Methodology  Constructivist paradigm  Qualitative case study design  (Stake, 1995; Merriam, 2009; Creswell, 2007)  Online setting (Baym, 2009; Hines, 2008; Orgad, 2009)  In this case, participants were bound together by their experience as participants in National Novel Writing Month and by their shared experience in this event during November 2012 (Miles and Huberman, 1994)
  • Limitations, Delimitations & Trustworthiness Limitations Delimitations Trustworthiness Time restraints Possibility of researcher bias Assumption of participants‟ honesty Results are not generalizable Specific focus NaNoWriMo 2012 College graduates Triangulation (Creswell, 2007) Member checking (Merriam, 2009) Thick description (Stake, 1995) Online guidelines (Baym, 2009)
  • Setting
  • Participants  Purposeful Sampling  100 responders  Age range: 18-64  82% female, 18% male  College graduates  Associates: 11  Bachelors: 54  Masters: 29  Professional: 4  Doctorate: 2  2012 Word Counts:  Range: 2,032 to 200,000  Mean: 50,800  Subgroups:  Professional Writers (16)  Educators (15)  Graduate Students (14) NaNoWriMo Participation
  • Data Collection  Multiple data sources (Creswell, 2007) Participant Observation s Online Questionnaire Follow-Up Interviews Online Artifacts
  • 10 “Mini” Cases: Interviews & Artifacts Gender Age Location Occupation Education Denise F 55 USA, NM Author/Writing coach Bachelor‟s Lindsey F 26 USA, NY Librarian Master‟s Donald M 21 Canada Student Bachelor‟s Elaine F 24 England Student Bachelor‟s Jason M 37 Canada Database programmer Bachelor‟s Miranda F 33 Finland Support specialist Bachelor‟s Nathan M 64 Canada Poet Associate‟s Erin F 31 USA, IL Social worker/Writer Bachelor‟s Yolanda F 44 USA, GA Editor Bachelor‟s Joyce F 25 Australia Technical Writer Bachelor‟s
  • Vignettes Donald: Lindsey: “NaNoWriMo taught me the power of putting in the time and effort every single day. It brought a new meaning to Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. I'm now convinced that if there is something that I want badly enough, all I have to do is be persistent and not give up.” “It has given me a lot more confidence in myself and my writing. I had only just started writing anything of length when I first heard about NaNo and although I lost that year, it was only after that that I began to consider myself an actual writer and take pride in the fact that I did. Instead of hiding it, I began to tell people. I have since begun to totally identify as a writer and even an author. I look forward to it every year.”
  • Data Analysis: Process  Systematic analysis with a case study database.  Data were coded based on a priori codes (Maxwell, 2005) derived from topics in the study‟s conceptual framework.  Open coding (Creswell, 2007) to identify emergent themes within four major categories
  • Data Analysis: Categories and Major Themes Descriptions Fandom Encouragement Ethos Self-Efficacy Identity and Practice Motivation Challenge Story Ideas Participatory Culture Artistic Expression Support Informal Mentorship Meaningful Contribution Social Connections Habits of Mind Creativity Persistence Metacognition
  • Describing NaNoWriMo: Fandom  Fourteen of the 100 responses included the phrase “I love NaNo”  92 of the 100 descriptions were enthusiastic.  Many responses mentioned plans for next year‟s NaNoWriMo event, and most had participated for multiple years prior to 2012.  Many participants donated financially to the site; eight were MLs. “It's been a blast, and I've discovered that I like writing and creating. I've participated every year since 2003, and won every year since 2005.” “I love it. Honestly love. Hearts.” “I love it. It always gets me to be so much more productive. I've written so many stories that I wouldn't have otherwise.” “ “I constantly tout the NaNoWriMo events to my clients, co- workers, and acquaintances.” “I‟m a firm believer in the NaNo philosophy of creative abandon.”
  • Describing NaNoWriMo: Encouragement  Sources include: the structure of the NaNoWriMo event, pep talks, forums, and interactions with other Wrimos. “It was encouraging and helpful to have others with similar struggles to read and share on the forums.” NaNoWriMo is “positive through and through. It's a great community and there's a lot of encouragement to keep writing.” “NaNoWriMo is much more positive than writing groups I've been to. NaNoWriMo is always 100% encouragement without the negativity involved in other writing activities.” “[I gained] the knowledge that I could actually hit 50,000 words in 30 days! I also worked up the courage to write in a different genre and point of view than I normally do, since NaNo provides encouragement to just write and see what happens.”
  • Describing NaNoWriMo: Ethos  The spirit, atmosphere, and environment of NaNoWriMo.  November is noveling season “I'm on a sort of annual circadian rhythm of writing where November is the month of germination.” “Nanowrimo's invigorated my writing life - I know I can always going to get a jumpstart on my projects in November, and the community is incredibly supportive” “There's a unique kind of energy and passion that only seems to develop in November, I think it has to do with the deadline.” “Nano has a sense of fun and excitement that other writing circles and workshops don‟t usually capture.”
  • Describing NaNoWriMo: Self-Efficacy  What did you gain from participation in NaNoWriMo? “Confidence. I didn't finish but I managed to write more than I have ever written before.” “A pretty good first draft, a sense of accomplishment… and the ability to trust myself more as a writer.” “A completed story, and a great deal of practice at writing. I like to think I've gotten a lot better.” “A rough draft, confidence, a writing rhythm and an idea on how to shape ideas into a story.” “I'm proud of how much I was able to accomplish in such a short period of time” “I gained the confidence as a writer to believe in myself and know I can actually write an entire novel.”
  • Describing NaNoWriMo: Identity and Practice  Impact of the NaNoWriMo experience: “Thanks to NaNo, I am now a published author. NaNo taught me how to structure long narratives, taught me work ethic, taught me how I like to tell stories, what I need to do to write, and what it means to work consistently on one piece.” “I am a writer now. It has begun to redefine the person I am and what I plan on giving back to the world. It was life- changing.” “I am a writer. I proved it to myself.” “I have been writing ever since I learned how to spell, and I had been making up stories in my head long before that, but I'd never managed to finish anything. Participating in NaNoWriMo was a chance to prove to myself that I was capable of writing”
  • Motivation  Challenge “Conferences and workshops are wonderful ways to elevate your craft. They do not tend to challenge your ability to write the way that 140+ pages in 30 days challenges you” “The concept was intriguing, challenging, exciting, and a little scary. It resonated with me” “I thought 50,000 was an awesome sounding challenge.”  Story Ideas “I had stories to tell and no outlet to tell them.” “I've always loved writing and had a few ideas in my head for many years. I needed the defined „excuse‟ of setting time aside to focus.” “I had a story, but had never gotten very far in writing it. I figured NaNoWriMo would give me the proper motivation.”
  • Participatory Culture: Low Barrier to Artistic Expression  “The support and the push NaNo gives (no editing allowed) seemed to be perfect for me.”  “NaNoWriMo is all about extrapolating and inventing.”  “It has forced me to write and think less about the quality. Editing is a separate function”  “NaNoWriMo is all about getting down the first draft. The only worry is to get the rough draft finished.”
  • Participatory Culture: Support for Creating & Sharing  “There was so much support in the e-mails from the website, I felt loved and inspired the entire time”  “Every year I've participated, I've had a positive experience -- been inspired by the pep talks, encouraged by the writing community, and glad to have a prompt to get me writing”  “My first NaNo was wonderful. The forums held supportive writers from all over the globe and walks of life. The encouragement in the messages from published writers added extra inspiration and have an extra push to keep writing.”
  • Participatory Culture: Informal Mentorship  “One of the most valuable things about NaNoWriMo happens to be the forums where you can ask advice of other writers. These writers are all experts in some field--whether it be making coffee or working at an insurance company.”  “This was the first year I truly used the forums. I offered my own expertise, and I used the forums to craft some of my research. I was able to get real life experiences for situations in my novel, and I feel that it gave me additional authenticity in writing my first draft. Since writing is such a solitary endeavor, having someone to ask about certain aspects who understands the kind of thing you may be looking for is an amazingly valuable experience.”
  • Participatory Culture: Meaningful Contributions  New literacies activities in the context of NaNoWriMo participation include blogging and self-publishing e-books.  Emerging theme: Fan Fiction  Twelve participants identified themselves as fanfic writers. “My success the first year, with a fanfiction project, motivated me to try the following year with an original project. That, in turn, motivated me to keep trying” “I wanted to write a lengthy fanfiction and this seemed like the ideal way to force myself to work on building a longer story”
  • Participatory Culture: Social Connections  Emerging theme: Community “NaNo is a great community where everyone pulls together to help each other” “It was much more social than my writing in college, which I mostly did by myself sitting in a computer room or lab.” “NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to participate in a writing community.” “I have completed multiple first drafts, made lifelong friends outside of just the one month of nano, and become part of a community that I feel a huge connection with” “It was like finding a tribe with eyes like mine; folks, at first, that I didn‟t even know existed.”  Local Events:  Half of these participants attended a local event during Nov. 2012 “Writing is generally a solitary activity, but if writers get together, they get inspired. Write-ins were really great to pump me up, keep me on task and as a way to connect with other authors.”
  • Habits of Mind The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing (CWPA , NCTE, NWP, 2011) Creativity Persistence Metacognition the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes and systems used to structure knowledge “NaNo makes me more efficient with creativity and usually pushes me to write more out of my comfort zone.” “As an author, the NaNoWriMo event gave me license to commit to a project and see it through to its end.” “I find talking to other writers expands my own thinking”
  • Data Analysis Summary Theme Participant Observations Online Questionnaire Follow -Up Interviews Online Artifacts Enthusiastic descriptions X X X X Fandom X X X X Encouragement X X X X Ethos X X X X Impact on Identity and Practice X X X X Self-Efficacy X X X Motivation X X X X Challenge X X X X Story Ideas X X X X Artistic Experience X X X Support for Writing and Sharing X X X X Informal Mentorship X X X X New Literacies: Fan Fiction X X X Social Connections: Community X X X Habits of Mind: Creativity X X X X Habits of Mind: Persistence X X X X Habits of Mind: Metacognition X X X
  • Conclusions  NaNoWriMo is a fandom centered on a shared appreciation of novels. Participants are emotionally engaged with NaNoWriMo, spending large amounts of time and effort (Jenkins, 2006; Mittell, 2013) writing fiction.  NaNoWriMo functions as a participatory culture (Jenkins et al., 2009) and as an informal learning space (Gee, 2004) in the digital extracurriculum (Gere, 1987; Shultz, 2011)  With its central focus on writing, NaNoWriMo illustrates Yancey‟s (2009b) concept of the Age of Composition. It encourages freewriting (Elbow, 1998) and creativity. NaNoWriMo participants position themselves as writers while participating in a community of practice (Wenger, 1998).  The combination of intrinsic motivation, choice, and accomplishment provided by the NaNoWriMo challenge promotes participants‟ feelings of self-efficacy (Jarvis, 2006) and encourages them to persist in a sustained writing project.
  • Implications and Significance  Educators‟ appreciation of extracurricular writing opens access to postsecondary writing success for students (Gere, 1987, 1994)  Social media and ICTs have changed the way we communicate, learn, share, and participate in today‟s culture. Meaningful learning experiences are available outside of school through the internet, and adult learners are leveraging technology in order to participate in the world as writers and media creators.  This study of NaNoWriMo as a social writing group and participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006, 2009) was significant because it addressed a research gap by providing a rich description of NaNoWriMo and a qualitative venue for participants to share their experiences.  This study sought to make educators aware of NaNoWriMo as an extracurricular literacy event. It is worth noting that only one of these 100 participants learned about NaNoWriMo from a teacher.
  • Recommendations for Future Research  NaNoWriMo is a promising site for future research.  This study could be extended to include further investigation into the practices, perceptions, and motivations of NaNoWriMo participants.  Future studies could be conducted with subgroups identified in this study: professional writers, college students, educators, and Municipal Liaisons.  Such studies would provide further insight into extracurricular literacy practices related to NaNoWriMo. Given the popularity, growth, and global reach of the event, further research is warranted.
  • Final Reflection “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” – Brene Brown
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