Students lack desire to read, write for pleasure

November is here; to the average person, that might mean Turkey Day preparations, post-Halloween sugar rushes, and other holiday-related activities. But for more than 100,000 people all across the globe, it means the beginning of one of the world’s finest literary endeavors: NaNoWriMo. This huge number of people include me, and I don’t ever plan on stopping the ‘thirty days of literary abandon’.

It stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of prose in thirty days. It sounds impossible, but it’s not. Thousands have completed the challenge year after year, and some have even published. Anyone can participate (they even have a Young Writer’s Program for teacher in school). The rules are based on the honor system, and editing is strictly frowned upon until December.

Not a lot of students participate, proportionally. At the St. Louis area kick-off party I attended, there was only seven or so teens in a group of thirty to forty participants. But the problem doesn’t lie within the schedule. Teens are not too busy to do NaNo. I participated last year as well as this year, and I succeeded a day early at 51,000 or so words. The problem is student’s love, or lack thereof, for reading. The generation of today’s teenagers have an aversion to reading that may surprise even teenagers themselves.

Teens don’t read, and when they do, they don’t read critically. Twilight, for example, was all the rage, and still is. It was praised from kids (mostly girls) everywhere. I can tell you that it was badly written, but sexually appealing, which teens flocked to. Of course, when someone’s reading for pleasure, they might not want to read critically, unless you enjoy scrutinizing fiction. When someone does NaNo, they realize anyone can write a novel, but because you can call it a novel doesn’t make it any good.

Another point is that teens don’t know, or haven’t learned, how to write fiction. The way to do this is not through classes or lectures (although they certainly help), but to read. Not the only-read-what-they-give-us-in-class reading. The active pursuit of reading materials, hanging out at libraries, asking for recommendations online, and eventually having far too many books crammed on your bookshelf. Reading gives you the tools to not only write correctly, but to also write well, which also helps you read critically.

In November, some people have pages of pre-planned outlining, and some don’t even have a main character. Maybe more teenagers should give this writing venture a go, and regardless of whether they win or not, walk away novelists…and just maybe better readers.