Saturday, November 13, 2004

What if they're not bad? What if they're great?

We're now far enough into National Novel Writing Month for it to be abundantly clear I won't have time to participate this year.

Never mind that my effort would have been symbolic and unofficial anyway, because the deadline for official signups flew by sometime near the end of last month, before I started thinking about it. So instead of doing it, I'm thinking about the differences of opinion over the idea. Some people think NaNoWriMo is a great idea that can help aspiring writers get over their procrastination. Others sharply criticize the whole concept, some of them with a revealing tone of vicious bitterness.

Most objections to the exercise seem to be variations on the same theme: that anything written in such haste is sure to be a textbook example of terribly bad writing. From such a beginning, critics extrapolate, writers can only continue to produce more bad writing. And the last thing the world needs is more bad writing.

Critics don't always bother to state that last part. Some just assume everyone will agree with it as an unspoken premise. From there, the conclusion is obvious: NaNoWriMo is bad. Very bad.

Now, I don't necessarily agree that bad writing is such a bad thing. There are far worse things people could do with their free time than produce bad writing, and it's not like they're forcing anyone else to read it. But let's leave that aside for the moment. Instead let's look at a far more scary implication of National Novel Writing Month. What if it doesn't exclusively fill the world with more bad writing? What if it also leads, one way or another, to good writing? What if it ends up creating dozens, hundreds, even thousands of new truly great novelists?

At first thought, any lover of literature would want to like this idea. But its implications can be overwhelming. There already isn't enough time in a single lifespan to read all the great literature we currently have. Many of us haven't even finished reading Shakespeare yet, and have barely touched upon the works of Austen, Dante, Sophocles, Plath, Dickens, Woolf, or the rest of the vast library the world has already produced. What on earth are we going to do if the world is suddenly flooded with new material, from an army of new great writers, raised up in part by the inspiration of exercises like NaNoWriMo? Who could claim the mantle of "cultural literacy" in a world so vastly rich in great literary works?

I suspect this fear, whether consciously realized or not, may explain much of the vitriol in some of those who attack National Novel Writing Month.

As for myself, I have not yet decided on the merits of the concept. It seems worth trying, but I refrain from passing judgement until I have actually tried it for myself and can speak from experience.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Explaining the election results

I suspect Nader was the deciding factor again, but not in the way most people thought he would be. Nationwide he drew only 1 percent of the vote this time.

Alert readers will recall that many Florida voters were stricken with guilt and embarrassment over their failure to vote for Gore in 2000. That election's "protest votes" for Nader, along with the "accidental votes" for Buchanan on the confusing butterfly ballot, clearly deprived Gore of Florida's electoral votes. With those, he would have easily taken the Presidency. So this time around, I think thousands of Florida voters, or perhaps even tens of thousands, resolved to undo their past mistake.

They made sure they were properly registered to vote.

They made sure they understood the voting rules.

They made sure to get to the right polling place.

And they made damn sure to vote for Gore this time.

Four years too late, maybe, but hey, it's the thought that counts, right?

Mark my words! A careful analysis of the Florida write-in vote will be needed to verify my hypothesis, but you heard it here first.