the messiness of power and nanowrimo

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.


14 thoughts on “the messiness of power and nanowrimo

  1. Hi grainsifter, I discovered you on She Writes. While I have not yet risen to the challenge of NanoWriMo, I see it as a marvelous opportunity to write without the inner editor peering over one’s shoulder!

    PS – I have just shared a piece on my FB page – – by Natalie Goldman, who discusses the relevance of NanoWriMo .

  2. What a beautiful post. thank you for sharing. I am participating in nanowrimo for the first time. Three days in and I am thrilled to be participating. I think you summed the reasons up for doing it so eloquently.

  3. This is just what I needed today Tracey! As a NaNoWriMo newbie I am already finding myself struggling and being pulled aside. Reading your post – especially the last line – is just the perfect inspiration!!

    1. You know all those “my first time,” articles and shows? The first time I did this, and did that, had a baby, made love, etc.? Well doing nano for the first time is like that. It reminds me of a recent talk I heard where three established 3+ published novels acclaimed writer types spoke with longing of that first novel that they wrote as virgins, unconcerned with criticism and publishers, fame and fortune, where they were just able to write, and write and write some more. Savor every moment, nano newbie! 🙂

  4. This was fabulous! Thank you! This is my first time participating in nano and I was getting so down yesterday about my story…I kept thinking “my writing SUCKS! What am I thinking?” But this is a wonderful to say “just write it and have fun with it!” So, THANK YOU!!

    1. Lord knows we have enough stress in our lives…this should be fun and freeing. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. You simply cannot write beautiful well-crafted prose when you let it spill out unfiltered, but that is the key. Just let it flow out and worry about what you have later. When you finish you’ll see that upon your first read you actually find parts that you don’t even remember writing (where did that come from?). That’s the magic!

      Here are a couple of writing quotes I love…

      “You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.” (Will Self)

      “Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.” (AL Kennedy)

      “So, my advice is to not listen to those people writing about writing. I mean, listen to Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, of course. But don’t listen to the dude writing about writing who only writes about writing and has never actually written anything. Write because writing makes you feel worthy of the amazing life you’ve been given. Write because you are overwhelmed by that life and feel the need to unearth it. Write because not writing makes you feel like absolute shit. Write what you would want to read. If no one else wants to read what you write, then screw ’em. ” (Emily Lackey, on SheWrites website)

  5. Your words of wisdom are wonderful! Thanks!! I will take them to heart! I’m having a blast writing ~ it’s just a bit daunting to think of the company I am in!

  6. “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.”

    Beautifully said, Tracey. So well written, as usual. Why is it that my shoulders drop a couple of inches every time I am lucky enough to read something you’ve written?

  7. Thank you for sharing this. Here is my NaNo story. I’ve written non-fiction for years. Professionally and as a gift for non-profits. My heart, however, wanted to write fiction. I tried and tried, but could never get more than 2k words down before deciding that my writing sucked and that I should give it up. I would then destroy what I had written and not write again for months, if not years.

    NaNo changed that. For the first time, I wrote more than 2k. In fact, I wrote more than 50k. Not only that. It was FUN! What a huge gift that was! Without NaNo, I would be torturing myself about wanting to write still. Instead, I’m actually writing and enjoying it.

    People can talk with derision about NaNo all they want. The only thing that they are communicating to me is that they don’t get it. And that means their opinion means squat. Too bad for their credibility with this writer.

    1. It was the same for me, and this is my third year. Magical and fun and freeing. As you say, a gift. You didn’t say if you are doing nano this year, but if you are, good luck!

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