This week has been one of haves and have nots, in our case we were fortunate to be of the latter, on the sunny side of the street which retained power, while our neighbors, the ones we could nearly reach out with outstretched arms (or, indeed, long extension cords) to touch, were without. Five long days they spent without juice and by the end they were weary of it, the initial excitement of the challenge long ago faded. There were families with children and households with older and sometimes infirm adults, there were dogs to care for and food spoiled. The haves offered what they had and the have nots, while bravely trying to fend for themselves, came in every now and then, for a cup of tea, a bed, a hot shower. At night, under our covers, we were all the same.
It has also begun as a week of writing, something I do most every day anyway, but this time of a different sort. I was sad (although not surprised) to read two writers talking about nanowrimo on facebook, thumbing their noses at it and taking offense at its premise, for they felt it denigrated the “craft” of writing.
I believe nano reinforces not only the magic of writing but how damned hard it is, humbling and complex. Oh, I know there are those who do not really understand what nano pretends to do, which is really not, despite surface impressions, to encourage its participants to complete a ready-for-publication novel in a mere thirty days. That would be sheer idiocy and insanity and were that the premise I too would be fully against it. No, it is not about that at all, but instead about spilling your guts onto paper, finding—many for the first time, although there are many published and respected writers who participate too—the magic of letting your fingers fly over the keyboard (or pen on paper), yielding to the muse which you may not have known even existed, telling a story.
What comes of it (besides the pride of having actually written 50,000 words in one month which is beyond most people’s imagination) is the roughest of rough drafts which to become something must be heavily and extensively reworked and edited or even scrapped altogether (and usually rightly so). The “myth” that certain well-known novels came from nano is only perpetuated by those unfamiliar with the process, for anyone who actually participates and reads the plethora of emails and pep talks which guide one along (many written by admirable writers who support the project) knows that while it sprung from a nano manuscript, it was overhauled and edited so many times over several years that the finished book hardly reflected the original at all.
Storytelling is a craft, a gift, as is writing, but it is also a personal expression of self in the same way that any creative venture is. For me, the best way to understand nano is to watch a child finger painting. Adults rarely allow themselves (or are not allowed) the freedom to just create, to play with color and touch, texture and line. We live lives of limits and niches, labels and definitions, illusions of freedom. Sit a group of adults down and put on some great music and dress them in clothing they don’t need to worry about getting dirty and put buckets of paint before them, deep blacks and bright yellows, a thousand shades of green and ochre and screaming reds. No brushes. Just fingers, and walls and floors and even their own bodies as canvases. They will create. They will feel liberated and free, many for the first time in years, or decades. Some will create elaborate scenes and others will blend all the colors until they are left with a muddied mess. Doesn’t matter.
Participating in nano does no disrespect to the craft of writing, anymore than a child smearing paint on a wall disrespects Picasso, or Pollack, or the Masters. Craft requires commitment and time and sacrifice, dedication and talent. This is simple creative expression, without pretense. It is a beautiful thing and I don’t see how anyone who loves writing could not see it for its simple love of the word, of the muse, of expression. Freedom is like that, democratic, messy, but out of it you never know what will rise.