Pumpkin SpiceNovember 2, 2014
Just kidding. Not really. Well, sort of. I mean, I like pumpkin spice stuff. But that’s not what this post is about. Except it kind of is.
It’s about National Novel Writing Month, a mouthful usually compressed down to NaNoWriMo. This abbreviation makes my skin crawl, because it somehow seems four thousand times more pretentious than the full name, and is also cutesy and I hate everything cutesy. But it’s far too late to change anything on that front, so there’s no point in quibbling further.
For those who are familiar with the idea, you can skip this explanatory paragraph and go to the next paragraph where you can start headbutting your opinion against my opinion. For those who are unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month (yes, typing those twenty-eight letters and spaces feels better inside my skull than typing the nine-letter compaction) is a thing that starts every November 1st wherein people are supposed to commit to writing a 50,000 word work of novel-type fiction by the end of the month of November. This corresponds to a pace of 1666.67 words per day, although it seems the large majority of participants (and critics) just go ahead and round that up to 2000. There’s an official nonprofit that sponsors a bunch of web-based tools for people who wanna do this, including a forum, and formal participation does come with some interesting discounts and free stuff from the nonprofit’s sponsors. Nonfiction and non-novels are technically not allowed, although the forums include a “NaNo Rebels” section for people who want to do those things inside the National Novel Writing Month framework anyway. (There’s also a spinoff summer version run by the same nonprofit that has looser guidelines.)
You could call National Novel Writing Month the pumpkin spice latte of wannabe writers. People who are dying to introduce themselves as “I’m a writer” are just as much in love with it as America is in love with the seasonal flavoring scheme, and the criticisms are equally plenty and loud and long. Among them: it emphasizes quantity over quality; it makes people think that any 50,000 word work is a coherent text worth reading; it encourages crowdsourcing your writing via the forums, which isn’t really creating; it’s more about self-indulgence than about creativity or learning to create as a habit; it trivializes serious writing; and by the way, 50,000 words is a novella, not a novel.
It would appear to me, though, that the people who mention these criticisms and the enthusiastic wannabes who inspire the same criticisms have the same terrible problem in common: jumping to conclusions, possibly buttressed by poor reading comprehension.
At no time does the nonprofit influence you to write a quality book, believe that you have written the next Pulitzer Prize winner, or believe that participating in a one-month exercise is the same as being a professional writer. Plenty of people do lazily crowdsource their stories on the forums, but I haven’t found anything telling people it’s a good idea to do that. The guts of the exercise are as follows: Write a 50,000 word fiction story in a month. Everything else is what the participant (or, critic) chooses to make of it.
And the people getting upset about the self-indulgence, the seriousness, and the word count really need to get over themselves. When we get down to it, all creative art is self-indulgence. You take thoughts and ideas that you just can’t keep to yourself inside your head and you express them because you can’t stand not to do so. We could even go right ahead and call it masturbation because it is not one bit different from sticking your hand in your pants because you can’t stand going any longer without an orgasm. If you make art that people like, then your thoughts and ideas have value to someone outside yourself, and that’s wonderful (no sarcasm! it really is wonderful); if you get paid for your art, that’s awesome because that’s not just validation but a reward of physical sustenance for doing something your heart and soul compelled you to do. But having other people like your art, or getting paid for your art, doesn’t make it one bit less of a self-indulgence. Your art can be more valuable than others’ in a monetary sense, based on the market for creative works and yours in particular. Your art can be better appreciated in a public sense, based on how many people are aware of your work and like it. But any assignation of “legitimacy” or “seriousness” or other moral or intellectual value in art, or comparison therein, is its own form of self-indulgence — now fortified with irony.
For fuck’s sake, E.L. James and Stephenie Meyer hit the fiction writing Powerball on the biggest self-indulgence of all: their own romantic and sexual fantasies, stretched out into multi-book series (James’s work even being based on Meyer’s). Turns out that you can get paid to masturbate. U mad, bro/sis? Who cares. The only difference between your personal literary idol and the person writing slash fanfiction with the names changed is that the former got a lot of people to like and buy his/her work (or, someone else did, after s/he died — and that’s a phenomenon that’s gone on since the earliest days of writing).
In sum: If you’re that freaking mad at people doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong yourself.
Okay, so, what am I doing about National Novel Writing Month? Since I quit my job to write books, and 1667+ words a day is an easy pace for me on days when I’m not doing contract work at the old day job,* this seems like a pretty natural thing for me to participate in. And I really don’t see the harm. People and institutions who consider themselves authorities on whatever are really hooked on this idea that the project automatically garbages up literary culture, which I don’t think is true at all. You wanna use National Novel Writing Month as a stepping stone to a serious writing career? Awesome! You wanna write a 50,000 word story about Katniss Everdeen and Harry Potter teaming up with Ender Wiggin in space to fight the Sith? Knock it the fuck outta the park! You think your Katniss/Harry/Ender story is a fine work of literature that’s going to become a national bestseller and get made into a movie and make you a millionaire? Well, I think you’re kinda delusional on that point, and you don’t sound like someone I’d wanna go on a date with, but if it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone because of it, really who am I to say you should not do that, that is a waste of your time and it shits up the world besides?
Still, after all that, I won’t be officially or formally doing it. I feel like I earned the right to make my own rules for how, when, and how much I write when I quit my job, and moved to a cheaper place (ehheh), and did a bunch of other real life shit that respectable and intelligent people aren’t supposed to do, in order to write books. But I do appreciate the spirit of the thing, and I have some friends who do want to participate on various levels. So I’ll continue on with my plan to write as many words as I can possibly churn out, every day, and I’ll commiserate with and cheer on my friends who are committing to the formal exercise, or the general spirit of the thing, or both.
But you won’t find me on the website or on the forums. In addition to the above, I’m kind of allergic to bandwagons. I’ll grant that this is the same kind of thinking that led to me not playing Final Fantasy 7 until six years after its release, and not allowing myself to enjoy certain genres of music until five years after I’d moved away from the world capital of those genres of music. But I’m at peace with those things. And when someone asks me “Are you doing NaNoWriMo?”, I’m at peace with saying “No.”
I’m even at peace with not visibly cringing at the abbreviation.
* We’ve moved to the aforementioned Exurb and everything is going great except (1) all my contract work is located back in Major City, which is now an hour and a half away in good traffic on top of however long the workday is — meaning 11 hours either working or in the car is now a short workday for me, and (2) I’m having to do lots more of that than expected because our old place still hasn’t been rented out (we broke our lease) and we’re now paying two rents. So a lot of what I’ve been doing recently is driving to Major City, working, driving home, showering, and going to bed. It’s a cycle I hope to break or at least minimize soon. This, by the way, is all the stuff I copped out on fully elaborating in the last post. Vague hinting about the juicy parts of quitting my job to write books is not fair to you readers. So I won’t be doing that again.