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“My” NaNoWriMo

Thanks for the encouragement to give National Novel Writing Month a go, guys! I appreciate the vote of confidence. Having thought about it a lot, I’ve decided on a modified plan for participation. Here’s what I mean…

Today’s NaNo pep talk from Tom Robbins says: “You need not have your ending in mind before you commence. Indeed, you need not be certain of exactly what’s going to transpire on page 2. If you know the whole story in advance, your novel is probably dead before you begin it.” This clinched it for me. I’m just not able to participate in NOVEL writing month. I know exactly what happens in my story because it actually happened. It’s the story of my grandmother’s family. And while I appreciate the way Robbins characterizes writing as “a journey, a voyage, an adventure,” I disagree about how real writers just intuit where to go in their writing and this ability is a “gift from the gods.” Nonsense.

When the Romantic poets in the early 19th century in England began to become popular, they transformed the way that Westerners think about creative writing. They talked of inspiration and passion, spontaneity and giftedness. Before that, true art was considered, by and large, to be something a person could create through patience, hard work, and adherence to convention — literary art was a craft. While I don’t think I would go so far as to say the neo-classicists had it right, I think the Romantics did kinda messed us up. Everybody seems to think good writing happens by chance — either you’ve got the gift or you don’t. As Robbins says, “Until you undo the ribbons [of the “package” you’ve been given] you can never be sure” whether you have that gift or not. I just don’t see things this way.

This Romanticization of writing is, I think, ultimately discouraging for would-be writers, who come to have unreasonably high expectations of themselves and thus get far too easiy discouraged when they find they do not “have the gift.” But these same folks could be tremendously good writers if they saw writing as something that can be learned. Good writing takes mostly hard work, commitment, and persistence, and a little bit of courageous risk-taking. At least that’s my opinion. But you all can see, can’t you, how this notion of writing as a gift fits into the American fast-food nation kinda way we approach life. Look at the last fifty years. Savings are down. Credit debt is up. We aren’t exactly a culture known for patient diligence — we want the glamour of having written a bestseller in one month. (I know this is an exaggeration, but don’t you think deep down NaNo appeals to some people because this is exactly what they are hoping for? And don’t you think many participants — even those who are not expecting to write the rgeat American novel — get down on themselves because they find that their work isn’t really that good, and they think they just don’t have what it takes?)

SO…what will MY NaNoWriMo be? Well, the part that appeals to me most is the writing of a minimum number of words each day for a month, on average. That’s a nice prod to get folks out there doing the work of writing. I like the idea of camaraderie, of course, but what I am writing isn’t like what most folks are doing, and I already find it hard to relate. I do like reading the pep talks, and I will take from them what I can, but these, too, may not prove terribly helpful (except in giving me something to blog about). One of the best things about NaNo and something I wholeheartedly endorse is the idea that first drafts should be written quickly and without a lot of editing or revision. This is excellent advice. While Grandma’s book is already in rough draft form, I have only revised seven chapters, so the rest is still raw and waiting to become MY first draft. So I could try to rip through that quickly, knowing that in Feb., I’ll be going back to it.

My pledge, then: I solemly swear to write, on average, 6 pages of TimesRoman, 12 pt., 1 in. margin text every day this month. I may not always be writing Grandma’s book (I have an editing gig for which I need to write an introduction, and I have some other articles on teaching that I want to compose), but I will write every day, nonetheless. When I am writing this month, I will try to do so without focusing a great deal on editing. If I want to edit and revise some of the work I complete, that will not count towards my daily word count goal unless that work means I completely rewrite a piece.

Now, on to those six pages!

2 Responses

  1. Hey Dr. D.,

    I’m with you on “…writing as something that can be learned.” I’ve seen too many people give up on it, when given a little time and further investigation, and as you say, risk-taking, they may have been happier with the outcomes of their writing. The idea of writing as a gift or talent, well, okay, maybe for some people, it is that. I think for the vast majority of people who write for a living, even as therapy, it is work, through a process of learning.

    As a blogger, I’m not big on editing, but, then I learned a lot from Natalie Goldberg and “practice writing”. I think the raw thoughts are the real ones. Editing certainly has destroyed a lot of my most sincere communications. That’s why I still like writing with pen and paper. It’s too easy to self-edit-as-you-go on the computer. (If you see typos in this comment, please feel free to laugh aloud!)

    You go on with your bad 6-pages-a-day self, and I’ll be out here cheering you on.

    Owen’s mom

  2. Thanks, Linda! I agree that some of the most authentic writing for me comes when I am not worrying about editing. Of course, later on, editing can make good writing even better — I’m not against editing! But for drafting, there’s nothing like just doing it. And I agree about pen and ink. I have a journal in which I record things that happen with my son. I write in it from time to time and am always surprised at what I remember as I write this way. I guess it comes partly from not having grown up with compters. My generation was the last to type papers in college.

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by!

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