SEARSPORT— NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge many new and seasoned adult authors take on each year to write 50,000 words by November 30. Many try but don’t hit that word mark.
Searsport eighth grader, Terrin Connor, decided she was also going to take on this challenge at the beginning of November. By the time, she was done, she had 33,000 words under her belt nearly 15 chapters and three quarters of the novel finished, winning the coveted Highest Word Count Award of all 18 SDMHS students who participated in National Novel Writing Month.
“This was my first time doing NaNoWriMo,” said Terrin, 14.
“I saw some posters about it at school and asked my friends about it because it seemed interesting.”
Every morning, she has to get up at 6 a.m. in order to be at school by 7:30 a.m. After a full day, she didn’t go home, but instead, stayed after school for flute practice until 4:30 p.m. After a long involved day, many students just need a zone-out break, but Terrin pushed herself. “I always found time to write; sometimes I’d skip chores or stay up late.”
Her mother, Jessica Connor, had this to say: “The thing about Terrin is she is very quiet and private, but she also struggles with perfectionism. We often have no idea what she's up to and then she will suddenly will surprise us with a new song or instrument that she is learning and her performance will be nearly perfect and stunning. We're just grateful that the things she chooses to remain private about are positive, healthy things.
“When she was writing her story, she would go into her room and disappear for an hour or two,” continued Connor. “She would run story ideas by us and we would talk about it but she would rarely tell us what she decided in the end. One night, we all stayed up very late. Everyone in the family sat out in the living room. Terrin wrote that night for four hours straight from about 5:30 p.m. until about 9:30 p.m, took a 30-minute break and wrote again until 11 p.m. She was very dedicated to the cause and really enjoyed it. I think she was sad when it ended.”
Jessica Connor’s Facebook post
I'm tired of my kids making me cry in public.
This time, it was Terrin's fault.
There I was in the SDMHS cafeteria enjoying another annual Christmas performance. Everything was going great. The performances were lovely. The next thing I know, the lights are dimming and the curtains close for a set change. While the set change is taking place, the music teacher enters the stage to announce the next act. So far, there is nothing out of the ordinary taking place this evening. As the lights come on and the curtains open, I see my daughter standing in the center of the stage holding a shiny electric guitar that I have never seen before and my jaw hits the floor. As the curtains separate even further, I see that she is surrounded by a drummer, a bassist, another singer and another percussionist. "Holy smokes! My kid is in a band!” I think to myself. Suddenly, my daughter strikes the first chord and the band begins playing the first song, "Halleluja " by Jeff Buckley. ...I am immediately overcome by emotion. Pride. Astonishment. Shock. Awe. As the chorus of the song begins, Terrin backs up the lead vocalist on the chorus in beautiful harmony, and I feel something warm slip from the corner of my eye and slowly make its journey down my cheek. "Oh my word..." I think to myself, "You are SUCH a baby. Get ahold of yourself, Jess....oh, no! I hope my mascara isn't running. Better fix that before the lights come on and everyone sees me looking like the Joker!"
As the second song, "Paint it Black " by the Rolling Stones starts, I see heads bobbing and toes tapping in the audience. I'm still shocked at what I am seeing and hearing. It's amazing! I still cannot believe my daughter is in a band. EVERYONE else knew about this, except for ME! My husband and kids knew, the teachers and staff all knew...everyone but me. Every day that I have been letting her stay after school to supposedly get extra help with math, apparently much of the time, she was actually forming a band! Sneaky...but we'll played, I must say. It takes guts to get up there and do what these kids did tonight, and they did a really great job! Sure, there are lots of opportunities for improvement but starting a band at such a young age is no easy task by any means. I am excited to see how they develop as time goes on and I am eagerly awaiting the next performance. Note to self: skip the mascara for the next performance. You don't want to look like you've been wearing the same mascara since the ‘80s.”
“It felt relaxing to be honest,” said Terrin.
Terrin said she had no story in mind before the challenge, which then, prompted her to start thinking of characters and plot.
“I didn’t know what to write about at first, but I looked around and said, ‘Well, here’s the school. Why not write about middle school and complain about my experiences? Because I can’t really do that in real life.’”
The plot took on elements of her own life.
“My main character is named Maya and her biggest challenge is low self-esteem, which is something I once struggled with when I was younger,” said Terrin. “She has a small group of friends, like I do. Later, in the story, she becomes better at comebacks. I’m terrible at comebacks, but for some reason, when I wrote the story, the comebacks were good.”
Her working title is “Life As A Middle Schooler.”
Connor said she felt a lot of power with her characters. And it’s no surprise, as I get to know a little bit more about Terrin, that she doesn’t just use literary devices to propel her writing.
“I like playing soccer and basketball, and recently, I’ve really gotten into boxing,” she said.
After a bout of bullying at school, Terrin decided she was going to start training at Wyman’s Boxing Club in Stockton Springs.
“It’s really fun,” she said.
Her mother, pointed out that when Terrin started training in boxing, she began changing her character Maya’s approach to conflicts in the novel.
“I haven’t written her boxing yet, but I will,” Terrin said.”I have a bunch of ideas I still need to layer in.”
Beyond sports and playing the flute, Terrin also decided to pick up playing electric guitar this year.
“Mr Ed, [an after-school ed tech and musician] is really cool and in charge in this sort of informal ‘School of Rock’ club at school,” she said. “I was playing flute and he pulled me aside and said ‘How would you like to play the electric guitar?’ I’d already learned how to play acoustic with a couple of lessons, so I picked up the electric guitar and began learning songs. When I first started, I kept breaking the strings and it was really annoying. I could only play one-chord songs. I practiced enough to get pretty decent. I didn’t really tell my mom.”
At this point, her mother Jessica breaks in with a story.
“I was at her school watching the Christmas concert the other night, and as the curtains opened, I saw my daughter standing there on the stage in a black leather jacket, holding an electric guitar I had never seen before. As the curtains opened wider, I realized she was surrounded by an entire rock band of students.” [See Jessica’s Facebook post in the sidebar for the full story]
“I had the best time of my life up on stage,” she said. “I didn’t look like it, but I did.”
Terrin said she thinks she’s got about 200 more pages to go to finish the novel. After that, she’s not sure what she’ll do with it next. “I’m going back and forth about publishing it. If I think it’s good and you think it’s good and we both agree, then I will.”
Figuring out her own conflicts, working on improving her own character(s), finding creative ways to circumnavigate the plot holes of middle school — Terrin’s got what it takes to be the master of her own story— and that’s why she’s one of the Rad Kids.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org