Saturday, December 11, 2010

Processed Exhaustion


I’ve mentioned this before, but the whole NaNoWriMo thing really intrigues me. I just can’t believe that 30,000 people each managed to write a 50,000 page novel in a month. I am typing this after writing just a 5,200 word essay in 24h, and the thought of continuing to type coherent and persuasive academic prose may be enough to make my eyes bleed. So, I’m curious about the idea just for the sake of the experiment—I want to know how literally tens of thousands of people could manage this.

Contemplating NaNoWriMo has brought me to a question, however. It’s sort of an unproductive question, since the answer is yes, no, or maybe. My question is: Does NaNoWriMo pose a serious problem for any writing that emphasizes the process rather than the product? I’m thinking Allen Ginsberg… I’m thinking Jack Kerouac. Does the whole “first thought best thought” theory hold when it comes up against an army of 30,000 one month novelists? Is sitting down at your typewriter and pounding out a novel in a few days enough to make something like On the Road?

I have a suspicion that the answer is no—the process isn’t enough to make the work a work of genius. If the answer was yes, after all, the NaNoWriMo competition last year would have produced 30,000 works of new, completely important, utterly literary material that we would all be scampering to read and study and dissect and analyse and understand. But that hasn’t happened. Of course, I have had my head stuck in the medieval sand for the last few months studying for my MA, but to the best of my knowledge, the NaNoWriMo-ers have not overrun the literary landscape of English speaking North America yet.

So, why not? If process is everything, this is a pretty extreme process. Like I said, my hunch is that process isn’t enough… that everyone’s first thought is not a literary best thought. I don’t mean to suggest that successful free-writing experiments are only possible through some innate genius. In fact, I’m not really suggesting anything. It really is a question… how important is process, and if process is important, why aren’t NaNoWriMo novels, produced under extreme conditions similar to those of other literary novels, a wild and valid literary success phenomenon? Is it a lack of training? Foresight? Does this writing rely on personal genius for its quality? I don’t know. But it’s weird.

Seriously. 30,000 50,000 word novels in a month. That’s bananas.

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