Precious Little

Non-fiction by Ben SD
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.
Ernest Hemingway

November. I tend to start the month full of energy, ideas and words. As the month drags on, words start to fail and I start to feel light-headed from blood loss. November is National Novel Writing Month (known as NaNoWriMo for short) and I hate it. Quod me nutrit me destruit. I used that line for my novel this year. It's Latin and means, “what nourishes me destroys me.” I don't speak Latin but Christopher Marlowe did in the 1500s and I'm pretty sure his ideas are public domain by now. Plagiarism or not, it speaks to the point here.

The idea of NaNoWriMo, for those not already familiar with the beast, is to write out 50,000 words during the month of November. It's a test of intellectual fortitude and constitution. For three consecutive years I've fought the beast and come out victorious and there are always the same spoils to be had. Each year I end with two-hundred or so double-spaced pages of rambling incoherent nonsense and a virtual pat on the back.

That's fine with me. I don't do it for the rewards. The best reward is the novel itself. The problem is just the delivery, and I suppose that's unavoidable. The goal is quantity over quality. The obvious argument, which I agree with entirely, is that revision was made for exactly that. Also, to be fair, the time constraint is relative to every writer. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 (around 46,000 words) in 9 days. James Joyce wrote Ulysses (around 265,000 words) over the course over seven years. Bradbury averaged 5,111 words each day. Joyce averaged 104. I averaged 1,690 this year. The minimum average to complete in thirty days is 1,667. It's all about the word count for us NaNoWriMo participants.

But no, that's not it. It's not the hurried word count or lack of shiny prizes that bothers me about this month. It's not the mass of poorly-executed fan-fiction and genre novels. It's not even knowing that, should I want to submit a manuscript in the next six months, it's going to be buried beneath the sometimes-revised short novels by any of the other 42,000 “winners” from this year as they trickle in. No, I like to blame the event but I think the problem is me.

NaNoWriMo is my one excuse each year to alienate family and friends and shamelessly do something I love. Aside from November, I rarely write. There's the intermittent scholarly paper these days. Occasionally I've made a penny per word to write articles on products I've never used, much less cared about (Dr. Merlin's Automatic Pubic Hair Straighter will boost your confidence with flawlessly groomed nether-regions at only minimal risk of painful dismemberment!). I never feel like I have time to write anything I don't need to and once I'm given a period to write, I don't have enough time to write what I do need.

That's why I don't like NaNoWriMo. It's a great program, it gets lots of people to write and it can be a lot of fun. For me, however, it's a crutch. I watched an interview with musician Jonathan Coulton on the internet a while ago and he said something that moved me and keeps moving me more as time goes on. He was a Yale graduate and computer programmer (code monkey, as he puts it) when he took time off work for the birth of his child. He never returned to his job after that and the reason he gave in the interview was, because his passion was to write and play music, he felt like he would be setting a bad example for his children by wasting his life at a job he wasn't passionate about.

When I write during November, and only during November, I feel like I'm wasting something good. I have children, too, and of course I want them to see the value of hard work and providing for a family through whatever means necessary. Coulton's right, though, do I really want them to think that it's better to slave away at something they hate than to do what they love? And for what? Money? Do I want to teach that as the root of happiness?

Going forward, December is National Novel Revision Month. I still haven't rewritten the novel from last year, the one I actually liked, so now's my chance. By January I'll be due to write more so maybe I'll write a short story and revise it until it's actually good. By February, this year's novel should be settled plenty for me to start dissecting it. I want to keep at it. Maybe I'll move my own personal NaNoWriMo to July this year, warm sunny summertime, when I'm not so busy. Come next November I'll write a 5,000 word story and just revise it ten times. I need to keep at it.

November does nourish me. It gives me that little window to write that I need to stay sane through the rest of the year. November is also what destroys me. It gives me the excuse I need to not write better material more often. So what am I going to do about it? I guess there's only one simple answer, which I've spent the last 902 words practicing here. I'm going to write. Maybe just a little but still the precious little I need.

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.
Franz Kafka