Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nano's over, the final word

This will be the last I say on Nanowrimo for probably another 10 months or so - here are some others' thoughts on the month of November. It's a drag to get through it - and here are some of the good and the bad of getting involved.

National Novel Writing Month inspires two professors and their students to engage in a month-long writing marathon
Jenny Thai
The Stanford Daily

It’s that infamous time of the quarter: the hazy, dizzying weeks of tackling midterms, grinding through p-sets and churning out coherent thesis statements for papers. As the quarter reaches its peak in bustling activity, a small fraction of the Stanford community is taking deep breaths before plunging straight into their writing. Those people will breathe easily only after generating 50,000-word novels.

National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo, is a now-worldwide writing event that takes place during November. Organizers promote it as “30 days and nights of literary abandon.” Aspiring novelists register online and undertake the daunting task of writing an entire novel from scratch in one month.

“Fifty thousand words,” said creative writing lecturer Scott Hutchins. “That’s the definition of success.”

Hutchins, along with creative writing lecturer Tom Kealey, co-teach English 190T, “Special Topics in Intermediate Fiction Writing: Nanowrimo.” This quarter is the first time the course has centered on preparing students for their writing marathons in November.

One key component of preparation is the reading of several novels that are of NaNoWriMo length, including Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” [What up! I've read two of these!]

“We’ve analyzed what has made them work and that has been interesting,” said Aaron Peterson ’13, a student taking the course. “It shows how much you can do with writing.”

What sets the course apart from other creative writing classes at Stanford is its unique way of providing feedback early in the quarter.

“We reverse the model of typical workshops,” Hutchins said. “Usually you read a lot before writing and getting feedback. Here, we’ve been giving people a lot of feedback on their outlines before they start the novel writing.”
12 reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo
Carolyn Kellogg
Los Angeles Times

What's wrong with an enthusiastic amateur class of writers? Who says they're not readers, anyway? I've yet to see anything more substantial than a dinner party anecdote.

Here's a quick rundown of Salon's Laura Miller's argument:

1. " 'Make no mistake,' the organization's website counsels. 'You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.' I am not the first person to point out that 'writing a lot of crap' doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November."

2. "And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive."

3. "Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it?"

4. "The last thing the world needs is more bad books."

5. "NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it's largely unnecessary."

6. "I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. 'Write Your Novel Here' was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing."

7. "I say 'commerce' because far more money can be made out of people who want to write novels than out of people who want to read them."

8. "There are already more than enough novels out there -- more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it's our job to do so."

9. "I know that there are still undiscovered or unpublished authors out there whose work I will love if I ever manage to find it. But I'm confident those novels would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth."

10. "I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on."

11. "Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers?"

12. "Why not celebrate them [readers] more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built."

Authors spill ink for writing month
Local write-ins staged to help encourage creative word flow
Emily Schettler
Iowa City Press-Citizen

In the small conference room at the Capanna Coffee & Gelato on the pedestrian mall, six aspiring writers sat huddled around their laptops with one main objective -- to knock out 50,000 words by midnight Tuesday.

They are some of the 500 Iowa City-area participants involved in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is a yearly creative writing program that encourages people to get over their fear of the daunting task and just write.

For 30 days, participants have an excuse to put other responsibilities on hold and let household chores fall by the wayside.

Marie Raven, who serves as the municipal liaison for the Iowa City area and organizes events like the "write-in" at Capanna Coffee, has been participating in NaNoWriMo for six years and has successfully completed the 50,000-word goal, which is equivalent to a 175-page book, three times, she said. This year, she's aiming for an even longer novel and hopes to reach 70,000 words.

Raven said the event is about proving to yourself that you can complete something substantial, like a novel.

"It's about not copping out and quitting," she said. "It's about getting outside of the usual process. ... Like anything, it takes practice to get good at it. Everyone has a story to tell."

NaNoWriMo is sponsored by Office of Letters and Light, a nonprofit organization that works to encourage creativity, inspiration and writing in the classroom.

The event began in 1999 in San Francisco and has grown to more than 65,000 participants, according to its website.

Although she appreciates the effort that goes into completing the event, Raven said there is more to the month than just writing.

"It's about getting over it and writing a book, but there's a whole social aspect, too," Raven said.

She organized a kickoff event Oct. 31, and people gathered to celebrate and begin their writing at midnight. Since then, she has organized meetings about twice a week where participants can write, hang out and bounce ideas off one another.

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