9 November, 2010

To NaNoWriMo or Not?

I’m over at the Huffington Post Books site today, talking about the matter of which of us can claim the right to write. You can read the whole piece, titled ‘Word After Word After Word,’ over there. Here’s an excerpt:

Somehow, people always seem to assume that a non-lucrative profession such as writing or painting or dancing or acting must mean that talent and determination have little or nothing to do with success. That no sacrifice has been made, only indulgence. I feel the same flare of annoyance that other artists do in such moments, and I often rant about it around the dining table. Why then do I always ask people – at book club gatherings, at readings, at festivals, at book signings, “do you write?”

I ask the question because most people do, or would like to write. I ask it because at some point or the other most people have weighed the stories that they carry and wondered how to tell them. A long time ago and not so long ago and around bedtime still, the tradition of story-telling is verbal. Parents and siblings make up stories. We make them up to disguise hurts, to impart advice, to cheer and to guide. How natural then to feel competence? How natural to feel that the stories that we tell each other are just as worthwhile as the stories we read on a printed page?

Feel free to read over there and post over here. I’d love to hear what people think about the topic.

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8 Responses to “To NaNoWriMo or Not?”

  1. NaNoWriMo is cool as a lark, but unfortunately everything in life is viewed as a lark now, one big Glee/American Idol mishmash. I’m nowhere near being a successful writer, but even in my small world I run into people enamored with the notion that writing is simply putting word after word after word, and even more who believe that putting up a godawful website is the first real step toward author groupies. (By the way, hope all is well with you, Ru.) If reading is an inconvenient roadblock to them, reading to study craft appears absolutely ludicrous and if I suggest it they adopt the expression of “Please apologize for your stupidity.” Art is supposed to be a means of communication but way too many folks are interested mainly in the sound of their one hand clapping themselves on the back, which does nothing but produce lazy, indifferent goop for consumption. I had a professor who challenged his class of fresh-faced writers to ask “What is the gift?” before setting pen to paper and after dropping pen at finish, because just scribbling ‘The End’ is never enough. Since I’m at work now I can’t rant on as much as I’d like here–which is likely a good thing as this forum is not about me–but to end with a quote from Flannery O’Connor: “Everywhere I go I’m asked if the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” I think it fits here. One could even substitute “life” for “university” if one doesn’t mind doofs branding one elitist. The author and the reader must respect one another. Lunch is almost over but my passion boileth over. I shall have to blog about this later! Clap, clap, clap.

  2. Ru says:

    Clarence – Yours is a righteous indignation and I can’t wait to read the full rant! You know we are on the same page when it comes to how we view people who don’t take the work of it seriously, but I beg to differ on the matter of craft. I never “learned” to write, I read and grew up writing. Perhaps my sentences could have more zip to them, or my grammar the correct flourish, but there is a certain voice – that of an immigrant for whom English is a second language – that I would lose if I were to write the MFA way. Is my story any less valid because it doesn’t conform? Tell me, brother!

  3. My brilliant sister, we agree on craft: the only way to learn to write is to read and feel and sweat and worry and be joyous. That’s the best way to study any craft, particularly the “feel” part since artists strive to be empaths. I’ve got no particular love for structured courses or MFAs because too much of their stuff is of the same cloth as stuff from il-to semi literate folks out to make a quick buck at the writing game: flat, lifeless and near irredeemable. There’s no beauty. No truth. No gift. No voice at all. And voice is key, because we’re all artists on this world with something to say when we take the time to truly say it. As your number one Detroit groupie, let me say that if I wrote a third as good as you I might have a groupie too. I get protective of writing because people thinking it’s so easy to do diminish it. I saw the singer Josh Ritter in concert last night. The man sang a love song about a mummy and an archaeologist; the lyrics made my big behind have to take a moment they were so emotional. Didn’t make me say I was going to rush home and write an album though. Anything good is not easy, and granted there are a million ways to get from start to finish, but nobody wants a chocolate cake made from corn meal when the flour was readily available right there on the shelf. Your book and blogs are cake that folks can grab big slices from or nibble on and come back for more. Your voice is honest. Your soul says “I have something to say” and the souls of others respond. I mostly soapbox about all the terrible ghetto books and NY chick books and boring yuppie toss offs stuff that morning shows get off on, stuff that Flannery O’Connor said could have been prevented by a good teacher. A lot of us forget we’re our best teachers. I did NaNoWriMo a couple years ago and tossed off a laughable piece o’ crud. It was fun to do but there’s no way I’ll let it see the light of day. Not only did I bake it with corn meal and melted Snickers on top, I used gravy for milk and bit off part of a fingernail that I didn’t want to root around in there to get out.

    Oh, and just so you know, I’m writing you in as a presidential candidate next go-round.

  4. Oh, and people should look at your site as an example of what a writer’s website can be. Not just about “Hey, buy my book!” but about taking feet off pedals when biking, about loving friends and family, about buttmunches who get off on being buttmunches, about history, culture, looking, searching, seeking, finding…life. Thank you for you.

  5. Ru Freeman says:

    Clarence – You are so very nice to me that it seems I should be your groupie anyway! I’d love to be president but that guy’s really smart and really good looking and look how they’re chewing *him* up!

  6. Ru Freeman for President on the one hand, or the dreadful possibility of Sarah “Gut A Moose For America” on the other. That’s a no brainer. Yeah, the current guy’s got a suck job and if he managed to walk on water he’d get accused of polluting the ecosystem with his dirty shoes, but even not knowing you I get the feeling you can put a narrow mind in its place with the best of them. Hey, everybody must be hunkered down writing a novel in 30 days or less; I expected to see bunches of comments on the hot topic of writing and commerce. Where my peeps at?! Everybody still at HuffPo (which it’s cool to see you got that gig; I hope it leads to more people reactivating their minds)? And for just considering being my one and only groupie, you get deep dish pizza AND homemade pound cake (which I make and is good).

  7. Marianne says:

    I’m a writer, a published one (but poor — HA HA HA. I met another wirter at a conference who told me: “If you haven’t made it by YOUR age, you’ll never make it”) and I always get patted on the back by people who say: “Oh, you are so determined! And tenacious!” Oh, what a back-handed compliment, if I ever heard one.

    I’m a product of Stanford Creative Writing. The two years there was valuable primarily because of the friendships I formed with other writers, and these are probably the only four or five writers in the world who know me and would never say: “Oh, you are so determined! You are so tenacious!”)

  8. Marianne says:

    OK, horrible typos in the above. Profuse apologies. I was typing fast, and my fingers do tend to run away with me at times!

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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