megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
Given the number of articles that Salon.com has put up on their website that have been straight out of Wrongsville, I'm not that surprised to see this article decrying and denouncing NaNoWriMo as useless coming from the same direction.



I will say upfront that I find it a little silly that an article like this is written by someone who doesn't write novels. That's kind of like an article decrying the Boston Marathon written by someone who doesn't run. Nor does reading a lot of books make you instantly qualified to write an article about a writer's event.

I also think it smacks of more than a little elitism to say things like this:

When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. "Write Your Novel Here" was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.


Cultural space? *sputters with laughter* Cultural spaces? You mean stores - commercial spaces,, usually set inside shopping centers or malls, run by large corporations for the purposes of making lots of money? Those cultural spaces? Excuse me while I laugh the rest of my ass off.

Also, since when the fuck was reading a "selfless" art, or somehow to be construe as heroic while writing is selfish? Since when did either of those activities come with a moral value? Oh, wait, I forgot. The art of sitting in a coffee shop with a book, looking Intellectual and Erudite is what's really selfless. Because it affirms what's Good and what's Bad, it lets the uncool kids know what table they can't sit at.

One wonders if the author would find the nerdy kids sitting in the aisles devouring manga or the latest Doctor Who tie-in novel or a Harlequin romance to be as selfless in their reading or is the generous, giving act of partaking in literature only limited to those Real Novels?

Is reading just as selfless when you're picking up a comic book or a copy of Cosmo or Muscle Magazine or, dare I ask, Maxim?

But let's move past the blatant and obnoxious elitism, or the erroneous assumption that even before NaNoWriMo, absolute, mindbendingly bad crap wasn't getting published - because let's face it folks, we've all seen books on the shelf at a bookstore that have made us think "how the sweet, saucy actual fuck did that ever get published?"

Let's move on to defending the art of Writing Complete Crap.

Ms. Miller talks about authors that she merrily scoops up with glee to read and talks about the need to celebrate readers. She also talks about, at the end of the article, a project to read 10 different books in 10 different categories, calling the organizers of that even the true heroes.

And it seems to me that Ms. Miller thinks that great writers just emerge from the womb, born with all their writing faculties and talents and abilities intact. That the minute these born writers put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, sheer genius flows out of them. And these are the writers who should be writing, not those other droves of talentless hacks who spend November writing 50,000 words of unsightly garbage.

As someone who has actually written a novel or two - unlike Ms. Miller - I can tell you that actually, it doesn't work that way. Every author that she scoops up with glee has, somewhere in their past, about a million words of utter shit. I mean the stinky, oh-my-god-what-died smelly kind of shit, too.

If one were to survey the selfish masses of writers who have managed to squirm their way into professional publication, you'd find that a surprising few got their very first novel published. Even fewer have gotten the very first thing they've written ever published.

Which means that the vast majority wrote many, many things (short stories, poems, novels, etc) and got rejected before something made it. And I can tell you that not all of them were just facing hard luck or overly critical agents and editors. A lot of them submitted CRAP. They submitted early works that just weren't there, when they as writers just weren't ready.

Then, after submitting this crap, they wrote more crap and submitted that crap. That crap got rejected. Well, after that crap, they wrote some more crap and then more crap and even more crap. And eventually, after all that crap, some agent or editor picked up their manuscript and said, "Hey, this isn't crap, this is good."

But writers don't get short cuts. We don't get a bypass for all that crap. We have to write it, wade through it, even submit it and get shot down. You wanna get good, you have to start by being complete crap at what you're doing and building the skills until you create non-crap things. Because what teaches you to tell crap from non-crap is becoming an expert in crap. What teaches you what works and doesn't is falling on your face and realizing, while your nose hurts, that a certain technique doesn't work.

You think the first time Michaelangelo ever picked up a chisel he came out with The David? You think the first note that Ella Fitzgerald ever sang was on key? No. They, also, started out making mistakes and being off key and missing a step and CREATING CRAPPY THINGS.

So yes, we have one month where we writers gather together to support each other and cheer each other on as well build those writing muscles, as we dare to be brave, to write our crap with our heads held high, knowing that yes, 50,000 words (even of crap) is something to be proud of.

Because whether it's any good to anyone else or not, it makes us happy and excited and proud of ourselves. That seems to be what galls Ms. Miller the most. Not just that the results are often amateur and more than a little in need of revision. It seems to gall her that it's not about being "selfless" and worrying about what other people will think or how they'll react, but about doing something that makes you feel good.

See, that's the thing about NaNoWriMo. It isn't just about a bunch of people racing to get a novel to get published. A lot of folks who participate have no interest in clogging up Ms. Miller's precious "cultural spaces" or forcing their works on the world. I'm wondering if Ms. Miller has actually even been asked by anyone to read their NaNoWriMo draft or if the very idea just offends her.

Publication is only a goal for some. A lot of the participants are people who just want to have a creative outlet, something they can build for themselves, something that gives them personal satisfaction. There are a lot of people who's novels will never get read by anyone except maybe their family or close friends, who will never write a query letter.

They count, too. And it strikes me as rather rude to tell them their pursuit isn't worth it because the results don't satisfy someone who thinks reading for pleasure (which is a sign of great privilege in this world, btw) is "selfless".

Here's the long and the short, as they say. I grew up writing, because I loved doing it. I loved having a finished story, I loved getting a story down on paper, and I loved sharing it. But my school offered exactly no creative writing in the curriculum. I had to stay after school once a week with a teacher and a few fellow students who also wrote to get any advice or guidance on writing, to get any feedback, to learn any bit of the craft.

I was lucky. I know there are so many budding new writers that don't even have that. Who barely have the notebooks and pens to write with. More than that, they get very little encouragement to write at all. Because writing isn't always valued the way it might be in more privileged echelons of society.

So yes, there's a website and an organization where, for a month, people come together and encourage writing and writers, urging each other to get out there and just do it and be proud. And some get overenthusiastic and out of naivety, they send rough manuscripts to agents. Not the best idea, and yeah, for an ongoing, professional writing career, the NaNoWriMo model might not be the best way to go on the long term.

But fuck it, most of us will never see publication. Most of us will not write the Great American Novel, doesn't mean our writing is useless. Doesn't mean we wasted our time because it didn't live up to someone else's standards. The only standards that matter are OUR OWN.

If you did something that made you happy and proud of yourself, if you made some friends, then fuck yes it was worth the time.

And if you don't like it, you certainly don't have to read it.
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