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November Frustrations November 9, 2008

Posted by LHK in Uncategorized.

Last week, blogging literary agent Jonathan Lyons dared to ask what his readers thought of NaNoWriMo. A lot of vitriol resulted. Man, who knew? The poor, defenseless month of November shrunk away in defeat.

I didn’t want to sully the comment box there with my long-winded, wishy-washy sorta-opinion on NaNoWriMo.The concept of the event is so simple that for years it seemed like it was above criticism. In my mind, in a way, it still is. Fast-drafting is a perfectly normal way for writers – professional or not – to pound out the first draft of a story. Writing between 1500 and 2000 words a day is fairly normal output for most habitual writers. And few people expect to be able to go from idea to polished novel within the span of thirty days. I think most NaNo-novelists are realistic about what the quality of their output will be, and I doubt that NaNo has been solely responsible for the uptick in the amount of dreck in agents’ and editors’ slush piles over the years. Probably the personal computer and the relative accessibility of the publishing industry through the Internet have been the major culprits where the problem of bad novels escaping into the world is concerned.

Of course, one could also argue that a mass writing event can only be as good as its participants. And if said mass writing event is offered to the general denizens of the Internet, you’ll attract a lot of people who have a passing interest in writing, or who like the idea of the 50K challenge, but who do not habitually read and who do not study the craft of writing, and the discussions on the forums tend to be a reflection of this. Questions often fall along the lines of “Has anyone ever written a novel in present-tense?” or “Is it possible to have more than one narrator in a novel?” and it seems like the few people in the “Literary Fiction” subforum who were actually writing literary fiction have been scared off by the masses of newbies who have unwittingly redefined literary fiction as “manuscripts in which plot has been replaced by Livejournalesque rambling.”

And, yeah, I haven’t followed my own advice to stay away from the general forums. It’s just my instinct to jump to the defense of first-person point-of-view or writing a novel in present tense every time I see those techniques maligned. I swear I’m trying to quit.


Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I doubt I’m going to hit the 50K this year. This afternoon I wrote about 600 words to bring me up to a little over 7000 total, but that’ll probably be as far as I go with it today. I’ve just got too many other things on my plate to worry about scrambling through a first draft of Rob’s Day Out! And by the way, Rob’s Day Out! has not been a terribly interesting novel so far. I suppose I should have had something more than the title in mind when I began it. Also, the idea that the entire story is going to take place in twenty-four hours was another brilliant way to set up a creative roadblock for myself. So far, the one amusing thing that happened (Rob follows a truck towing a trailer full of llamas, and eventually winds up surrounded by said llamas in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off I-85 in north Georgia) was born from a suggestion made by my writing pal Erin. Rob escaped from the llamas before 7 AM, thus leaving me with many, many more hours of his day out (!) to fill up. And with what? I’m not sure.

Maybe if nothing else, I’ve at least learned that Rob worked best as a supporting character in my stories. He’s a more action-oriented character than any of my other main characters have been, and it’s difficult for me to write about characters like that. Rob is low on personal demons, self-doubt, and paranoia. If there are going to be enough conflicts in his life to fill a novel, they have to come from external rather than internal sources. And where’s the fun in that?


Also, three points of excitement!

1. I’m typing this on my brand-new MacBook Pro. It’s so light! And bright! And widescreened!

2. After 3.5 years of being a blonde, I am back to being a brunette. And a darker one than before, for that matter. One day soon I’ll share some photographic evidence.

3. I’m going to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak tomorrow night!



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