Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NaNoWriMo & YWP: An Interview with Tavia Stewart-Streit, Director of the Young Writers Program & Operations Manager at the Office of Letters and Light

Dear Imaginary Readers,
I’ve been away a bit this summer working on my new middle grade novel. I'm back now with an interesting interview I hope you will enjoy.

I am sure many of you have heard of NaNoWriMo? (National Novel Writing Month).
Check out NaNoWriMo’s website at:

While you are there, click on the Young Writer’s Program logo that looks like this:

Or just go to:
Wow, you'll find
great writing resources there for teachers and students. So, as students head back to school this fall, I thought it'd be fun to interview Tavia Stewart-Streit, Director of the Young Writers Program & Operations Manager at the Office of Letters and Light.

Lynn: Tavia, thank you for joining us at The Imaginary Blog.

I have to say that I've always been impressed by the creative endeavors of NaNoWriMo. So I was thrilled to learn that there was a Young Writers Program involved with NaNoWriMo too. Then when I saw the nifty free downloadable Novelist Workbooks for teachers and students at various grade levels I just had to meet the responsible enlightened folks involved.

There are some fun facts and FAQ on your website but I'd love a quick update and inside view of the process from your POV. Whose idea was it to include and encourage young writers in NaNoWriMo? Who created and designed the great workbooks?

Tavia: NaNoWriMo's Young Writers Program was created after we were inundated with requests from participating educators for a kid- and teen-friendly version of the event. They wanted to share the blissful sense of accomplishment they felt after writing an entire novel in 30 days with their students—to see what would happen if they encouraged their kids to run amok in their imaginations for an entire month.

So did we!

The Young Writers Program launched in 2004, got its own website in 2005, and by 2006 had a thriving international community consisting of both educators teaching our program in classrooms and young writers participating on their own. To meet the demands for more resources and a more kid-friendly site, we launched a redesigned website in 2008 along with dozens of lesson plans for educators and our Young Novelist Workbooks for students. The workbooks were written by a team of writers including myself, and were designed by the talented, Graham Dobson!

I'm proud to say that the word about the workbooks has leaked to the adult site, and they're now being used by writers of all ages! My favorite worksheet is the "Character Questionnaire" from the high school workbook. I feel that knowing everything you can about your characters before November 1 is essential. It allows you to sit back, relax, and let your characters lead you from the beginning to "The End."

Lynn: How many students are you expecting to participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge this year? Any unique locations, students, or groups who've participated in the past?

Tavia: This coming November, we're expecting as many as 25,000 young novelists worldwide to write with us! In the past we've had students participate in every state and in dozens of other countries including South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Holland, Pakistan, Great Britain, Australia, and Ireland, just to name a few. NaNoWriMo has been taught to all grade levels from preschool to 12th grade and has inspired students to write in ESL classrooms, schools for the hearing impaired, and many after school programs for underprivileged children.

Lynn: Can you share any inspiring stories or events that have come about through the Young Writers Program?

Tavia: My favorite story is about a Middle School in Battle Creek, Michigan. Each year, the entire school participates in NaNoWriMo, including the staff! For one month, the hallways are covered with classroom word-count banners, writing prompts, and excerpts from the students' novels. The school hosts pajama write-ins and allows students to write between classes and at lunch in the computer labs. Luke Perry, the teacher who originally introduced the program to the school, wrote in after his first year teaching NaNoWriMo to say that he "will never teach the same way again."

It's great to hear that NaNo not only inspires students to write, but inspires teachers to teach writing in a new and innovative way. We hope to hear more and more of these writing revival stories as our numbers increase.

Lynn: What else is The Office of Letters and Light up to after NaNoWriMo is over?
Did I see something about screenwriting for young writers, too?

Tavia: OLL is a year-round operation! We work all summer and fall updating the NaNoWriMo websites and YWP curriculum, take a short winter nap for a week or two in December, then get right to preparing for our second creative writing event, Script Frenzy, which takes place each April.

Script Frenzy is a lot like NaNoWriMo, but instead of writing novels, we write scripts. We encourage participants to write any kind of script they'd like including screenplays, stage plays, TV scripts, comic book scripts, short film scripts, and radio scripts! Participants can work with a partner if they'd like, which is a ton of fun, and they can write multiple shorter scripts as long as they reach their page-count goal by the end of the month. I think one of the coolest things about Script Frenzy is that, after it's over, participating classrooms can team up with their drama department to have their students' newly-written scripts performed!

To find out more about Script Frenzy's YWP, you can visit

Lynn: Please tell us a little about yourself. What brought you to your current position?

(Tavia Stewart-Streit, Director of the Young Writers Program, below)

Tavia: Never in a million years did I think that I'd actually use my degree in Creative Writing to make an actual living. But I thought I'd give it the old after-college try, so I moved to San Francisco to wait tables and volunteer or intern at any publishing house or literary magazine that would take me. Within a year, I was working two restaurant jobs and three internships. One of my internships was at McSweeney's Publishing, which turned into a paying job in customer service. Though McSweeney's was—and still is—one of my favorite creative companies in the whole wide world, customer service was customer service. Luckily, my boss liked me enough to send along the posting for a position at the Office of Letters and Light. What a wonderful day it was when I went from juggling five jobs to working at one amazing organization.

In my spare time, I volunteer for a small local publisher called Watchword Press. I co-edit their bi-annual literary magazine and curate my brain-child, Whole Story, an event that transforms a conjunctive gallery and theater space into a life-sized, multi-media diorama in reaction to one short story.

In my spare, spare time, I practice yoga, make ice cream, and write short fiction and poetry.

Lynn: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our Imaginary Readers?

Tavia: The writing doesn't need to stop on December 1 or, in the case of Script Frenzy, May 1. Let NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy be creative catalysts—let the events inspire you to do more and write more. Whether you spend your "off-season" revising your novel or script, or you spend it writing short stories or poetry, remember that you did and still can write everyday…and you should! Write on!
--Tavia Stewart-Streit

Lynn: Thanks, Tavia, for joining us on the Imaginary Blog.

Forecast: Young writers writing! Cool activities, workbooks & downloads at All ages writing at NaNoWriMo this November, and ongoing enlightened projects from Tavia at the Office of Letters and Light!

1 comment:

Violet Carr Moore said...

I accepted the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2008 and completed my first draft of an adult mystery novel with more than 50,000 words in less than 30 days. I framed my winner's certificate and hung it on the kitchen wall.

Violet Carr Moore