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.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the writing is terribly bad, yet that isn't quite the point. I participated last year [and won] as a personal dare, as well as to gain insight [however slight] on the machinations that typically go into the production of a novel. Perhaps, like a sausage, there's some things we shouldn't see being made, but I'd always been curious.

All in all, I regarded the experience as time well spent.

This year I simply hadn't had the time or inclination to join in the fun.
-urthshu

14 November, 2004 13:55  
Blogger Victor Plenty said...

Thanks for the response, urthshu. Sorry it took me so long to see it and reply to it.

I do have a question, should you ever happen by here again in your surfing. You say the writing was terribly bad, and I assume you include your own novel in that assessment. My question is, have you considered going back to edit and re-write your novel, to improve its quality? Or do you consider it too low in quality to be worth salvaging?

31 December, 2004 08:51  
Blogger Envoy-ette said...

Thoughts on paper are such personal things. For those of us less talented...the Blog is freedom.

10 April, 2005 10:46  
Blogger Laura Young said...

Well, I know the post is old but I simply had to comment when I saw it. I made me laugh out loud. You are spot on about the dilemma that would be created if there were a tidal wave of wonderful writing out there. Ah, nothing is simple...

27 August, 2005 17:35  

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