Monday, November 10, 2008

Focusing NaNoWriMo

I tried NaNoWriMo once, sincerely. Failed very early in the process because my head, like yours I bet, is jammed too far up my own hole to free write any more. Now I sponsor and host NaNo events for the Mason community because I admire how the event provides 1) permission to be creative & 2) loopy constraint for those who need it. A more specific reason I like NaNo is that it demystifies novel writing by reducing the activity to just that, activity. It may be a lie, but exposing the process in this way provides an experience we can’t offer in academic workshops, not really. (I tried last year. My understanding is that most academic novel writing workshops devolve into support group sessions) We train students to write short stories because that’s what we can manage within the physical realities of class size, semesters, etc, and isn’t that just as artificially constrained as reasons for not teaching novel writing? Worse, students come into fiction workshops believing that short stories are easier to write because they are, er, shorter. I always stress writing in the form that one reads for pleasure, and that the forms have different aesthetic shapes that are far more important than word counts.

But back to the demystification angle. I’ve never met a successful novelist who described novel writing as anything other than painful. I’ve never met a student novelist who described novel writing as anything other than joyful. I’ve never met a novelist who could tell me how to write a novel. Or maybe they can and they don’t wanna? So we learn by doing, doing, doing. In the absence of any other willing authority, NaNo exhorts us to do, do, do. I know this sets aside the old whiskey breathed chastisement, “A writer writes”—which may be true after all—but that’s not a good enough answer to any question. It’s certainly not education.


ryan call said...

this is a good post.
i feel like i understand better nanowrimo.


"exposing the process in this way provides an experience we can’t offer in academic workshops"

i think finding new ways to shift away from the standard academic workshop is worthwhile.

Laura Ellen Scott said...

thanks--one of the issues I always come back to has to do with enthusiasm and productivity. the undergrads who do nano every year are already high producers, giddy about writing. they remind me of karaoke people. i find the concept of karaoke embarrassing, and I'd never do it, but I cannot deny that karaoke people are happy people. I am shamed by karaoke people, so I lash out at them.

ryan call said...

i guess that shame explains my lashing out at nanowrimo...

it also has to do with bitterness.

and me being a bad person.