I’m a lurker by nature (please ignore the sounds of shocked and disbelieving laughter from people who have actually met me). But what is not true in the mundane world is true on the internet. I actually lurk far more than I participate.
Recently, I found myself lurking on the edges of a conversation about one of the more successful internet-born cultural phenomena; National Novel Writing Month.
This is one of those www. ideas that has taken off, kind of like Talk Like a Pirate Day. People get together in groups in cafes and co-working spaces to pound out their words. They blog and LJ about it, they agonize over their quotas and deadlines and will they or won’t they make it, and will the results be any good, how will they balance their writing commitment with all their other commitments. In short, for one month, they get something approximating the world of the professional writer. Minus the submission, rejection, editing, proofing, raging over bad cover art, and all the other things that happen after the mss. is actually completed. And of course, it is done in what cartoonist Gary Trudeau calls a “revenue-free environment.”
It also turns out people have very strong feelings about NaNo. The conversation I lurked around came about because one person had blogged about NaNo might not be the best way to produce a publishable novel. The result was what this person felt was one of those other internet phenomeona; the criticism pile-on. And as further discussion of whether NaNo was a good idea or a bad one went on…the matches for yet another the flame-war were clearly being struck.
I actually think NaNo is a cool idea, the way I think stitch-and-bitch circles are cool ideas. People are getting together and they are creating. They are supporting each other in the act of creating. They are trying out new ideas, concepts, roles, and otherwise stretching their mental muscles. I know amateurs who use this socially-supported time to dip their toe in the waters and see if this writing thing is something they want to make a go of, and I know professionals who use it as a space to experiment with ideas that might not be marketable, but that they want to explore.
Will some of amateur NaNo participants think they might come out of this able to enter the writing life full time? Sure. Will they be wrong? Probably, but not necessarily. Does that make NaNo a bad idea? Not necessarily. What is a bad idea is heading out to try to sell work without having a good look at the markets, the industry in general, and the various avenues open (or closed) to the new author. This has always been a bad idea and always will be.
Then there’s the fact that some people, probably the majority of people participating in NaNo don’t actually want to be professional writers, the same way the majority of people who join supper clubs don’t actually want to be the next Anthony Bourdain. They want to experiment with the craft, look at things from a new persepctive, enjoy the comraderie and the sense of experimentation and exploration. Now, me, I don’t understand not wanting to be a professional writer, but I am one and am therefore by definition insane so my judgment cannot be relied on in this matter. But I understand wanting to try out a new craft or explore a new place, and NaNo provides a fine, and safe, way to do just that.
Will some people think that their NaNo work is as good or better as anything that comes out of a publishing house and scoff at those of us who labor under the lash of the editor and the blood-sucking tendancies of agents while putting their masterpieces out for the Kindle and waiting for the pennies to roll in? Probably. But NaNo did not create such attuitudes, it just gave them additional blog space. Can hearing such messages be damaging to the career of a potentially good, professional writer? Yes. Can they lead to getting caught in bigger scams such as PublishAmerica? Oh, yes. And that is a real problem, but I can’t really lay it at the feet of NaNo. There have always been people extolling the short cut that leads into the swamp. OTOH, I got into the hands of a bad editor at a professional house and did not realize until far too late the person was playing power games with my career and it took me two years to begin to undo the damage. The hazards of this world are legion.
But if NaNo had been around when I was starting out, I would have jumped on a chance to participate. To me, it would have meant a chance to talk with people who heard the kind of voices in their heads that I do, a chance to get support while putting aside more normal social activities to write, a chance to get together and laugh and agonize over the creative process, maybe form new friendships, maybe hone my craft, maybe stretch my muscles and find out what I was really capable of…maybe fail, maybe not, but to for at least one month, shed the isolation that attended my ambitions and try, really try, to write…I would have killed for that.
PATHS TO CAMELOT, the first complete collection of Sarah Zettel’s sweeping romantic series, including the final volume CAMELOT’S BLOOD.