Now that NaNoWriMo has kicked off, a lot of people are saying things like ‘forget Art and Criticism’, ‘just fill that page and work out what it means afterwards’, ‘it’s okay to write rubbish, as long as you edit it beautifully’. Now, long-time readers might be surprised to hear that I don’t like that.
I think people should write, they should do little experiments like this, but I think they should have to think about what they’re writing. This idea that ‘The World Needs Your Novel’, which graces the banner at the top of the NaNoWriMo website, is so inherently wrong that I’m finding myself becoming somewhat angry. Now, I don’t think I’m really a literary elitist, though I probably would be if I believed in elitism or absolutism in the slightest, but the world doesn’t need more novels. I’m not saying don’t right, but I am saying don’t think that YOU are necessary.
I’m kind of working on my own little ‘Pep Talk’ type thing that NaNoWriMo gets ‘famous’ authors , though I’ve never heard of half of them, to do occasionally, particularly after reading a few of the generalised, bullshit advice they tend to contain, full of half-arsed metaphors about empty fields and blank pages and canvases waiting for the artist’s brush which, honestly, make me want to vomit from rage.
I’m not saying don’t write, nor am I saying that nothing to emerge from NaNoWriMo has ever been any good, but these ideas that the world is waiting for YOUR novel, the idea that YOUR attempts at writing deserve to be applauded simply because they are done in a month, or because YOU are the one doing them are as damaging to the idea of a ‘writer’ as they often are to the consciousness of the ‘writer’ themselves.
Now, obviously, I’ve built myself a little Ivory Tower here, from which I can unjustifiably throw advice out to people older, more talented and probably nicer than me, but that is a necessary evil. So, here’s something of a brief point from the ‘Pep Talk’ I’m working on.
Remember, the world doesn’t need your novel, nor does it want your novel. You, as a writer, are something small and superfluous and are unlikely to make a difference to anyone’s life with your work. At all times, ask yourself why you are writing, why do you think you have something to say that no one has said before, or no one is in the midst of saying. Doubt yourself, hate your work, be embarrassed to show it to anyone, that every time you finish a page you look at what you’ve written and feel nothing but a deep shame at the idea that you ever thought you could compete with better men and women than you.
Think of all those times you got drunk and threw up on yourself, those nights when bad food rushed at you and you almost shat yourself in bed, those shameful things you wished you’d never done and live in the conscience which tells you that you are a monster.
Or don’t. It really doesn’t matter; you’re part of a crowd of thousands, just another set of fingertips tapping away with uncertainty at all too familiar keys. You’re not special, you’re not part of something special. What you’re doing now is just a thing, just another vague event you use to pass the time, even if every word you write sends pleasure crackling up your spine.
No one cares about what you’re writing, so YOU need to. Use it to exorcise your own demons, at the cost entertainment; use it to entertain at the cost of meaning; use it to propose your own ideas, at the cost of any numbing quality it might offer you. You’re an ugly writer, a vile creature, and proving to yourself that you aren’t is more important than entertaining the dullards on an Amazon store page.
Remember that you aren’t going to Heaven, that Hell is here on earth. Remember that criticism is right; remember that Art is a ghost and it hates you. Remember to hate what you’re writing, because if you don’t hate it, you are incapable of loving literature.
It may be a bit miserable and, at this point, barely thought out, but it’s healthy to have an alternative to the happy ‘you can do it!’ attitude adopted by events like NaNoWriMo; for all that it is an intersting challenge combined with a literary experiment.