One of the things I love is when something officially becomes a cultural phenomena. Pokemon, Harry Potter, video games, the Simpsons, all these things started off as something to do and became a part of culture. How do you know when they've reached that point? Simple. People start writing pointlessly egotistical articles dismissing the value of it and asserting their superiority for not participating. I keep thinking of the scene in Say Anything where John Cussack challenges his buddies who know all about women with cold logic, and it still doesn't phase them in the least.
So, who's the latest to go big time and gain an attack from a shallow narcissist?
Nation Novel Writing Month.
I don't hang out on Salon.com. Just didn't see the point to it. It's like Yahoo's news section without any other services. I've likened it to Utne Reader -- we'll find the articles that you can relate to so you don't have to read and decide for yourself. I'm guessing Laura Miller is a regular contributor to the site. She decided to write a column called "Better yet, DON'T write that novel -- Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy." TL;DR -- since the goal is to just write 50,000 words regardless of quality, there's going to be a lot of crap being written, as the NaNoWriMo faq says. So why bother?
Okay, I'm only going to deal with one specific part of this before I crap all over her opinion. She mentions that writers are just writing stuff instead of learning the skills they need, such as revision, and that editors and agents are already flinching about the slapdash manuscripts they'll be receiving. Take it from me -- all these "skills" that they say you should learn? They don't guarantee success any more than just writing 50K words. I should know. Let's just focus on the comic book stuff. No publisher will touch Sound Waves. No one. I haven't even gotten a response about Quantum Redshift, even after a follow-up, so I'm assuming it's dead in the water, too. Plenty of people learn to write and draw comics like the mainstream, and they don't get picked up, either. I had a professional crew working with me on all my Hard Way Studio projects. Great artists, and not to sound arrogant, but I know I'm a good writer, I know what I'm doing. The only projects picked up like The Supremacy were by Atomic Pop, and we did most of the campaigning, calling shops and such, not the publisher. Bigger names, like Dark Horse, Image, etc.? Nothing. Instead, who is getting comic book series? Michael Chiklis. Jane Weidlen. The lead singer for Fall Out Boy. Trace Adkins. Talent means DICK. Publishers want some sort of recognition that will sell to an established audience of habitual buyers. And guess what? That means you could have the English skills of George Plimpton and the artistic skills of Jim Lee, John Byrne, and Jack Kirby combined, and if it's not something they feel they can make gobs of money on off a narrow audience, they won't take it. Miller's suggestion is just as much a waste of time as what she feels NaNoWriMo is.
She also misunderstands the point of NaNoWriMo. I used to do improv. The hardest thing is starting a scene. You need something to latch on to, some golden thread that you can weave everything around. You know how many people can't get started on a story because they can't figure out, say, the perfect opening line or whatever? NaNoWriMo is intended to short circuit that. Because you need to get it done, you will be open to new directions and ideas. And you may find that element towards the end that, when you go back and revise what you wrote to incorporate it better, makes all the difference. Mickey Spillaine was once asked how he dealt with writer's block, when he got stuck writing a story. His famous answer was, "I just have a gunman burst into the room and start shooting." If you read the Mike Hammer books, you can see that. And you know what? It works. Because it forces the plot in another direction instead of ending there. This is also the reason for Holly in Stress Puppy. If the plot bogs down, I inject her in, and because you never know what she's going to do, it spins things away from their intended direction. A legitimate storytelling technique, done by the great (Spillaine) and not so great (Peter G), the heart of NaNoWriMo and more effective than Miller is willing to admit.
Now that that's out of the way, time for me to really wreck this self-important piece of bullshit. One of Miller's suggestions for a better way to spend your time is how a couple of friends did a "10/10/10" challenge. They read ten books in ten different catagories in ten months. There's a lot of self-congratulatory, "Oh, I discovered someone new I never would have noticed without the challenge." That is really stupid. I try new stuff, from music to writers to whatever, all the time. You just have to do it. I will sometimes walk through a music store and just randomly pick out a CD to try. At no point do I wait for some justifying influence. She also posts how most Americans don't read one or two books a year. Yeah. WE'RE BUSY! WE HAVE JOBS! FAMILIES! LIVES! This is why movies are so popular -- you get a complete story in two hours. Not only that, but if you look at the friggin' best seller lists, plenty of people are reading. Some are even rereading, like the Twilight books or Harry Potter. This has nothing to do with expanding horizons, but with establishing acceptable boundaries for what constitutes worthwhile reading and using that as proof of superiority. I guarantee you none of the books they tried was something like my C++ Primer Plus. They not only wouldn't have gotten through that in ten months, but I doubt they would have made heads or tails of it. An educational volume that has real world applications if not artistic aspirations. They won't consider that, just general catagories with unchallenging, easily digestable reads that they can stick in anyone's faces.
People like NaNoWriMo. I don't participate, I don't need to. I can't go very long without writing anything (as if I needed to prove that). But other people need a kickstart. These people have just as much right to do what they think is fun as Miller does. The only difference? They don't act like Miller is a loser for not sharing their passion. It's easy to talk about the craft of writing when you've already made it as a professional and have thousands of people hanging on your every word. But thinking that you've made it means you have all the answers doesn't make you right. It just makes you a jackass.