Once upon a time there was a pottery class that was divided into two equal number of students. The first group was told that each student in that group would be graded on the quality of a single piece of work for the entire quarter. The second group was told that they would be graded on the quantity of finished works produced. (A note about pottery: if you don’t do it at least a little bit the right way, the whole thing blows up in the kiln.) And by the end of that quarter, the artist-professor found that the group being graded on quantity was consistently turning out more technically brilliant and innovative pieces of art.
I read a tweet that made me a little mad last night and then I spent the next twelve hours dwelling on it because I am a parody of myself. The tweeter claimed she hated National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” for those of us spending every spare second on writing a novel from beginning to its bitter end by November 30th, because it took her years to write her novel, she had an MFA, she was published, and how dare these kids call themselves writers. She has obviously never seen Ratatouille*. My first thought was “Why are you mad that your neighbors are enjoying the above ground pool they set up in a weekend? It doesn’t make your concrete saltwater lap pool any less impressive.” Should have said that… L’esprit de l’escalier fo’ LIFE. And yeah, I can understand that the word “writer” has been put pretty high up on this crazy pedestal when it’s really just another noun-enized verb. Like “carpenter.”
Do you write? You are a writer. It’s not hard to be one. The difficulty is in recognizing all the ways you could be better and then pressing forward and forcing yourself to improve. It is difficult to receive six different rejection letters on the one thing you are most proud of, and finding that bit of deranged confidence that’s tucked away behind all of the self editing and shame over whether that was the correct use of a semicolon; to send that story out again semicolon be damned.
NaNoWriMo is not for your manifesto as a novelist. You enter NaNoWriMo to make a lot of pots as fast as you can. You can learn so much about the craft of writing by reading and studying the best writers, your favorite writers, but you don’t have their hands and you can not make their pots. NaNoWriMo strips away this time for stewing, for wondering how Murakami might have painted the glaze, and as you blaze furiously along to beat the clock you have no option but to paint it sans frontal-lobe influence. At the end of November, you’ll really hear your voice. And isn’t that what you are writing for?
All that being said, if she’s just mad that come December 1st the market is flooded with unedited 50k word manuscripts full of plot holes and f-bombs, then I sort of get the reason for her animosity. Edit your manuscripts! First drafts are only half the battle!
*I haven’t seen Ratatouille since it first came out but the lesson “Anyone Can Cook,” has lodged itself deep in my soul. My writing background is humble, but a pedigree does not tell the story, nor does pedigree present a dish. If I had waited for permission from someone in the writing world to tell me I had a chance at being published, I would have never sent anything out. In another dimension there is a depressing little shoebox in another megan’s closet with a few mediocre short stories that might have been great had she worked a little more at her craft. I try not to visit that dimension very often, and whenever I encounter someone in this world who tells me she’d like to write, I am thrilled. Everyone needs everyone to write a novel. Imagine a world full of people who have the sort of introspection it takes to write a whole flipping novel. Sounds a lot like love, right?