A few weeks ago I watched Throw Momma From The Train with my regular movie night crew. It’s a dark comedy about an author (Billy Crystal, before he got boring) with writer’s block who teaches a creative writing class. Billy Crystal’s maxim is “A writer writes. Always.” He doesn’t let that stop him from iterating an opening line that would get thrown out of every workshop I’ve been in (“The night was hot/humid/moist/foggy/sultry.”). Evidently a writer writes first lines. Over. And over. And over.
It’s National Novel Writing Month, a bad idea made worse by the event’s mangled shorthand, NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for those with especially curtailed attention spans). Every November, would-be novelists unclench their cheeks and squeeze out 50,000 words of gushing logorrhea that enthusiasts swear is just like the real thing. That’s a little over 1,500 words per day, including Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and whatever other portions of the month we spend in the kinds of stupor that is slightly at odds with the act of coaxing words out of our febrile brains. I can think of few exercises less productive than attempting to stitch together a coherent thought or two amid the cacophony of football, family squabbling, and whatever sound a Walmart shopper makes while being trampled to death under the feet of this year’s capitalist vintage down at the Walmart. Don’t forget, that’s all happening during NaNo’s crunch time, near the end of the month when you’re already 8,000 words behind because you skipped one weekend to just sit in a theater and watch the new Twilight movie over and over again and spent the entire first week of the month having sternly worded Facebook fights about the election with your crazy uncle. Which, not coincidentally, you will shunt into your novel-in-progress, because otherwise you’d be 10,000 words behind — those Facebook comments were both eloquent and inspired. It may come as a shock, given my unfettered enthusiasm, that I am not participating in this farce.
I am all for Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts” approach to writing, in which “the first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.” (from Bird By Bird — go read it). If no one is going to see it, I’d just as soon not spend what free time I have writing about writing instead of toiling away in obscurity where I belong. It’s obvious at this point that the number of words written about National Novel Writing Month far exceed the number written under its yolk. I don’t see the value in stapling a word count to your forehead, then wondering why you have a migraine. For a writer who isn’t already in the habit of sitting down to compose on a regular basis, it’s a bit like deciding to become a professional marathon runner and bypassing all the long months of training that lead up to each race. You’d pull a muscle. Cramp up. Crap your pants and collapse in a heap within tantalizing sight of the finish line. Die of heat stroke or dehydration. Let’s say you do upheave the rest of your life and manage to hit 50,000 words this month. What then? What happens in December? You spend it reacquainting yourself with your friends and family, grateful there’s no looming word counter on your custom NaNoWriMo profile page to shame you for having the gall to live your life. After November, the project’s done, it’s over, and there’s no reason to keep sitting down every day. This does not a habit make.
The propaganda can now point to several “successes,” published work that began as National Novel Writing Month projects. This narrative conveniently elides the months of revision, editing, submitting, coping with rejection, more editing, and yet more rejection that happens after the end of November. You know, the unglamorous, unquantifiable work of fixing the fever dream you thought of as a novel and then trying to get it published. There is a National Novel Editing Month, I checked. Imagine my ecstasy.
All this is to say I haven’t updated my blog in a while. I’m not sorry. It started feeling perfunctory, so I stopped playing the synchroblogging game that had become my main excuse for writing here. This post is, actually, part of that game, on our shared topic of “Maxims.” I’ll be back eventually.