I was not impressed by an article I read in Salon yesterday (“Better yet, DON\’T write that novel” by Laura Miller) encouraging writers to ignore the allure of events like NaNoWriMo and keep their novels in their heads. Nothing stinks so much of true elitism — not the we-disagree-thus-you’re-being-elitist kind of faux-political elitism — than someone who has struggled through, had a few lucky breaks, had an interesting idea, and made some progress on their career by publishing a couple mediocre-selling books then going off on a blog and telling others who are just starting out or don’t yet have the same time and resources to devote to a full-time effort to stuff it and shut up. To give up. Nothing stinks so much as standing a metaphorical half-step above everyone else and turning up your nose at those who are fighting to reach the stairs.
I’m not writing in this year’s NaNoWriMo, but not for any of Miller’s reasons. (Work, side-work, side-projects, parenting, illness… I won’t bore you further with my lame excuses.) But then, why write a novel?
Well… why not? Because you should. Everyone should at some point. And here’s my list why:
7. Skills and Style. Language is the means we use to communicate between each other most often. We write memos, notes, texts, letters, stories, comics (with words) and all sort of things like that. But a novel… a novel is a magnificent realization of a language: a complete, cohesive story that uses nothing but words to transport an audience from reality into an imagined time and place. When you need to build your novel to make a complete and cohesive story, you can’t help but pick up new skills in grammar and spelling… and better yet, fleshing out your own style. I have yet to meet anyone in this world who couldn’t benefit from work on those things.
6. Endurance. Someone who can write a novel — not even a good or a great novel, but just a novel — is like someone who can run a marathon (or, from personal experience, a half-marathon.) The feat itself is worthy of a pat on the back whether they place first, fiftieth, or just cross the line in one piece. Don’t believe me? Try either. Then have someone (*cough cough* Miller?) tell you the effort is only worth it if you place first (in the marathon) or become a best-seller (with your novel.) Stand still while I catch my breath and throw my running shoe at your head.
5. Participation. We live in a world where culture has become largely a one-way street. You are right now — at this very moment — reading an independent blog, so that statement might be hard to believe (because you’re a person who reads independent blogs and stuff like that) but I’d wager that ninety-nine percent of the culture that the average person consumes is not independent culture: it’s mass produced. And don’t even get me started on how this rolls into copyright laws. Instead of just sitting there suckling at the teat of mass culture, write a novel and participate in creating some culture of your own.
Nothing will rake your ego across the coals so much as realizing that writing a novel is not just randomly slapping the keys of your keyboard into strings of words, paragraphs, and chapters.
4. Humility. Nothing will rake your ego across the coals so much as realizing that writing a novel is not just randomly slapping the keys of your keyboard into strings of words, paragraphs, and chapters. Or, when you hand you “perfect” first draft to a friend to read and she gets half way through and tells you that the book is unreadable and makes no sense, and what the hell happened to your plot anyways, it’s bound to make you think a little more critically of your own skills. (Why is this good? Just remember that all criticism can be constructive — and that a little humility is a good thing.)
3. Fun. A lot of folks will laugh at anyone who struggles to pace out fifty-thousand-plus words to create a novel. But those are only folks who haven’t tried it. It’s a fun experience watching a world that lives inside your own head materialize into a story on a page. It is something that can only be understood by trying it. So try it. Why are you still reading this.? Go write… oh right…
2. Putting in Time. Malcolm Gladwell writes that we need to do something for 10,000 hours to become proficient at it. Ira Glass tells us of the years of crap we must produce to fill the gap between seeing what we like and making what we like. Miller seems to assume that folks either got it or they don’t. I agree with Gladwell and Glass. And writing a novel could check off a couple solid percent from that ten thousand hour tally and fill a lot of gap.
1. Luck. I don’t believe in “magical” kind of luck, the kind that just happens. I believe we make our own luck. And part of making your own luck is setting out the hundreds or thousands of little threads that eventually catch a metaphorical fly in your web of luck. You can string a lot of web with a novel, and who knows what kind of luck you will catch. Now. Go write something.
My crap? Don’t read it. I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel last year (2010) that still needs a lot of revision. But… I know whereof I write.