You're so novel...

Among the many things that I hate, I HATE national novel writing month. I refuse to use the ridiculous abbreviation.

My hate has very little (though some) to do with the critique that you can't write a good novel in a month, and very little (but more) to do with the idea of thousands of people thinking they can write although they cannot. My hate also totally drunkenly crashes its bike into the car owned by the idea (just go with the metaphor) that 'it is good to stimulate people to write'.

Here are the ingredients of which my hate consists:

One: The idea that 90,000 people writing a novel, for good or bad, is somehow a good thing, is ridiculous. First of all, there are over 90,000 shitty books published every month already: from celebrity ghost-written tell-alls, to stupid 'here's the story of me doing this thing in real life', to self-help books that are as much literature as anything else in the new releases section at a big book store, to historical fiction to the next Halo novel (yes, a series based on a video game). What more are 90,000 more? Even if the effort garners fifty worthwhile books, wouldn't these people who can write have written a book anyway? Why do we need a month?

Two: Why do we need a month to celebrate the bare-bones fact of literacy? Sure, people don't exercise their creative writing skills enough. But the people who already think they are 'writers' will be filling their moleskins anyway, no matter what month it is. The people watching "My Name is Earl" are still watching TV. All this month does is give people an excuse to waste more paper, not improve their vocabularies.

Three: 'Novel'? What the fuck is a novel? If you want to talk narrative, there are far too many narratives out there, populating the vast abyss that is our cultural unconscious, and by encouraging people to reify these bastardized archetypes by aping actual literature is just thinking that you have created life via growing e. coli all over your walls by rubbing raw chicken all over them. Committing something to words, the ability of every literate person, does not literature make. This is a talent and art that is not about telling a story. This conception of 'the novel' is what leads every person with the money to buy paint think that they are an artist. Sure, everyone needs to practice to be good at anything, but this leads back to number two, above. Why not hand out diplomas to everyone who buys the books, even if they don't go to class? Because simply signing up doesn't mean you learn anything.


Five: I don't really know what all the people who take part in this fool exercise are like, but I have some guesses. These are people who consider themselves creative, have a wide variety of interests and hobbies, and are open-minded and adventurous enough to take on some project like this. I'm also guessing that they don't dedicate themselves to anything specifically, otherwise they would simply be doing that. A painter or a fashion designer (amateur or not) would not take out a month to try a different creative hobby. A writer would be writing anyway, november novel or not (see number two). These are people who like to take pictures, have tried painting, garden a bit, and what the hell, they have a computer, so why not try a novel. This will be one more half-finished project that they will give up once they lose momentum or november ends. I guess there is nothing really objectionable about this, except that it leads to all of the above. There is this weird romanticism about being a renaissance man/woman... why? Why not try and actually perfect something? Why not take a year to write a novel, if writing a novel is what you want/have to do. Why not actually be good at acoustic guitar rather than just learning a few bob dylan songs? Why not actually try to create something new, rather than just sewing together some handbags? I guess if you don't want to do something that bad, then it is just a hobby. And while there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, there is number two, and clearly we need no "take a picture day" or "knitting week". Just because we're all capable of writing doesn't mean anyone can, should, or needs to be writing a novel in the month of november. Why isn't a grocery list a poem? Why isn't every journal a novel? Why isn't paint art? I don't know exactly, but I can tell you of all the words that will be spent in the month of november, we won't get any closer to finding out. Masturbating doesn't teach you how to fuck. And here we are back at the beginning.

thanks for listening,

Adam (who just spent half an hour typing this rather than actually writing)


Anonymous said...

Hi Adam -- interesting if angryish post. I can understand your frustration about #4 and hope that things change around. You've got the energy to make it happen, that seems clear. My best Shakespeare prof worked nights his way through grad school while writing his dissertation (and supporting a family!). I don't always or even most of the time agree with your posts but this one struck me. I too dislike the NaNoWriMo (as I've heard the abbreviation) and I like your idea of learning, say, the guitar well enough not to be trapped playing other people's songs. But in fact my problem is that I resist studying other people's songs with the diligence that could or would result (happily) in greater creative output of mine own. I know that I write better the more I write -- poetry, kindasorta, only half-heartedly do I attempt a prose because I dread to come up with yet another victim memoir; and I still ain't as good as those junior high school teachers told me I was (and those college teachers told me I wasn't). I play better guitar the more I play. Someday I'll be able to play along with "Tainted Love."

Submitting comments on a blog however serves mostly to distract me from Important Memos and Official Email Business (IM 'n OEB) the likes of which occupy significant time most every workday. But I thought I'd check in. Keep it up, take care.
Tom from NYC

Adam Rothstein said...

Hi Tom,

Most of my posts are pretty angryish. I think the internet lends itself to that, or I lend myself to it. Partly the anonymity, partly that my other emotions are expressed elsewhere.

It is interesting that with a skill like, say, the guitar, it pretty well recognized that practicing time-worn classics is a good way of improving basic skills. Even art students carry their sketchbooks into the museum for a little time with "the masters". Yet with writing, it is something that "comes from the heart" and therefore is considered a somewhat purer skill in method if not in material.

But the fact is, any word can only be used on the basic fact that it has been used before (as I write this, I know that it is not truly correct, but the Lewis Carroll's of this world are certainly few). Why don't we practice established literature in order to "learn our chops"?

Here's my idea: one month out of the year, every person who calls themselves a "writer" in any measure, takes it upon themselves to RE-WRITE a work of literature that they think is great. They may deviate from the word-for-word rewriting if they feel they must (every edition ends up edited), but the finished outcome must berecognizable as the original work. Now, that I think would help some people write better.

hope the NYC winter isn't too harsh yet. I have to say, I'm really enjoying the NW weather.

Take it easy Tom,

Anonymous said...

Hi Adam,
It's getting cool in the city. I'm sorry -- the City. Some great ideas you offer, I like the one about re-writing a classic. I think that is more or less an already accepted method: learn the rules and then break them, or bend them into a new shape. (Doing so in a month however is still going to be a little gimmicky.) How many times over again has The Odyssey been rewritten, or for that matter On the Road or Catcher in the Rye. I got a real kick out of the prof who convinced me it's less neccesary for today's schoolkids to read Catcher than it is for them to read, e.g., Homer, or Shakespeare, or Joyce or Jane Austen. That said, I'm a fan of both Catcher and (some) Kerouac; the time may already have come when both titles have outlived the usefulness of one's saying that it's not so necessary to read them. If that makes any sense? I think it's a lot less necessary for today's kids to be reading, say, Prozac Nation or American Psycho than it is for them to be reading Shakespeare or even yes, Salinger or Kerouac. But perhaps it's also a matter of taste.

Whether writing, or any art, comes purely from the heart or from the head or in whatever admixture, one cannot say for sure. Atrocious a-technical guitar soloists like Neil Young or Kurt Cobain in fact can produce some pretty powerful one or two note guitar solos, and insane technicians who have no emotional connection to their output nevertheless can stand hair on neck with their harmonic minor shredding. In both cases the emotional impact (the from the heart) ought to be in the service of the composition/song/art.

The issues are trickier, I believe, for literature (music being often times only instrumental and non-verbal); this is probably why my flirtatious dalliance with literary theory came to a blessed end (and I avoided going to graduate school not that I ever would have done well).

Then again I work with and around professional academics. Enough said.

Anyway, your idea is a pretty good one. Come up with some annoying acronym or abbreviation and go to market!

Take care,