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NaNoWriMo Rant-O

Every year I over-react to the negative bitching about NaNoWriMo, and I'm not always very artful about it, so I thought I'd get out ahead of it this time, if only to make it clear what I think. The people who complain about the marathon challenge that consumes the Novembers of so many hopeful fiction writers (including my students) are EVIL and they have turds where they should have hearts.

Keep in mind, I've never done NaNoWriMo successfully. Hell, I've never even stuck it out a week. As soon as the clock ticks to 12:01 am on November 1st, my mind is erased, emptied, as if the creative spirit that possesses me for the other eleven months of the year has been exorcised. It's nice, in a way. I can be normal for a whole month--get my shopping done, catch up on my doctor's appointments, and listen to podcasts on the porch.

But I have enormous respect for those who take on the challenge of trying to write 50,000 words of fiction against an absurd deadline. And, as I've said before, some people need community and permission to be creative. NaNo provides that. However, there's always someone out there--usually a modestly published writer--who wants to rescind that permission, or at least make it clear that NaNo folk are not welcome at the cool table.

So why would they take precious time away from writing to belittle other writers? They claim to be offended that their art is being treated like a sport or a game, diminishing the perception of what they do. This is, of course, a crock of shit (that didn't all fit into the cramped spaces where their hearts should be). No one cares about, or respects what writers do, unless they are working under hardship or threat. Otherwise the work of the work is perceived--rightly--as privileged and boring.

Here's my theory about what's really happening.

The genre wars are all but over, especially now that Ishiguro has his Nobel, and we are left with the image of poor Phillip Roth and his agent, annually waiting on that phone call from Sweden like Linus waiting in that pumpkin patch. (That image was mean, but if it helps, I'm pretty sure I stole it). What has that got to do with anything? Well, it has become harder and harder for "serious" people to dismiss fantasy, science fiction, mystery, etc., as separate from literary fiction. The folks who spent decades obsessing about the definition of literary can no longer legitimately ice you out because of what you write, so now they're going after how you write.

I will leave it to someone cleverer than me to do the Marxist breakdown on that, but here's the math: fast=easy=cheap=disposable=escapist fiction. Make no mistake. This is still about elves and martians. And about a raw hatred of youth and youthful dispositions.

Yet, how is fast easy? Is Paula Radcliffe taking the easy way out and ruining the quality of running by holding a world record? And when she's not running, is she just sitting on a sofa watching old episodes of "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives"? I really doubt it. I have, myself, experienced suspicion about my own output--my three books with Pandamoon Publishing came out 9 months apart. I have to keep reminding people that my first novel wasn't published until I was 48. I didn't exactly rush into this. I've been thinking about my stories a long time. Perhaps that's why I'm NaNo-sympathetic. Participants know what they're writing about before they start. Yes, that means most of the work is genre--NaNo is designed for genre or any story based on a what-if/what-happened concept and a unity of effect mission. As a recovering literary writer, I can tell you there enormous creative freedom that comes with knowing how I want readers to feel.

That said, maybe I don't need to make these arguments anymore. NaNo-negging may be falling out of fashion. Last weekend I was on a published writers panel where two of the speakers talked--without fear of stigma--about how their publishing path started with NaNo projects. I hadn't encountered that in person before. Perhaps NaNo has come of age.

Does this mean I want to read your NaNo novel? Oh, hell no. NaNo novels are terrible. But guess what? All first drafts are terrible, including the ones that take years to complete, with their deep, well-crafted flaws. The fact is that most novels are barely readable, regardless of how they were produced. I refer you to Sturgeon's Law.

Sappy end to the rant--

Yet we all keep moving forward, at our own paces. And though we all want the same thing--to get there, wherever there is--I don't think anyone benefits from discouraging others or by being glib about new ways to do old things. To use the marathon analogy again: sure, there is a winner to every race, but anyone crossing that line is also a winner. As is anyone who tries.

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