Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

That is, of course, the premise and title of a popular game show that allows you to match wits with, well, a 5th grader.

Today, I had a similar opportunity to marvel at the brain power of our youth when I spent the morning and early afternoon at the 2015 State Spell Bowl Championship.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a Spell Bowl, it’s basically a team version of a spelling bee. In the Hoosier incarnation, each team consists of 10 students, each of whom competes in one round, spelling nine words each. Unlike a spelling bee, the Spell bowl requires contestants to write down words as they’re called out by the announcer, and then a judge decides whether or not the spelling is correct.

What does all of this have to do with NaNoWriMo or writing novels in general?


For starters, any chance to immerse yourself in a nerdy wordplay of any sort is always attractive and fun. Spelling bees and, in this case, the Spell Bowl, are the realm of teachers and students who spend a good portion of each day covered in the nuances of language.

What’s the difference between fuselage and fusillade? Ask any freshman member of your local Spell Bowl team, and he can likely tell you.

So, yes, it’s inspirational to be around these types of literary minds at work, but Spell Bowl competitions can also be enlightening for writers.

A regular occurrence, for instance, is to hear a word that you THINK you know, but realize you don’t when the announcers uses it in a sentence. Or you find that you’re really not sure how to spell a word that you DO know how to use.

It can be humbling in addition to expanding your vocabulary.

Maybe more importantly is that the Spell Bowl can make you realize that you don’t need a huge vocabulary to tell a compelling story.

How many times have you seen testamentary or flageolet in a Stephen King novel, for instance?

The English language is beautiful and complex, and we should never stop learning more about it. When it comes to crafting compelling and engaging stories, though, most of us would do well to focus on clean, clear prose.

We should avoid labyrinthine words and phrases when simple will do. Irony is fine, though.

Happy NaNoWriMoing!

Daily Word Count: 2300

Overall Word Count: 31,000

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