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Didn't use November to write the Great American Novel? Join the club

POSTED November 29, 2017 9:11 p.m.
Barring major holidays, like last week’s giving of thanks, it can be difficult to keep track of every single thing we’re supposed to be recognizing every single day, week or even month.

I mean, I know that November is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (following October for breast cancer awareness) — or “Movember” when men are supposed to grow moustaches as a visible sign of said awareness. To tie into Veterans Day, November is also Military Family Appreciation Month — makes sense. But it’s also Vegan Month, Wikipedia Asian Month and, of course, Historic Bridge Awareness Month.

But November is also National Novel Writing Month — a fact that is being increasingly publicized.

Similar to a 24-hour film festival, National Novel Writing Month — or NaNoWriMo — is an annual event where aspiring authors aim for a 50,000-word manuscript between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30. Started in 1999, the event has ballooned to include hundreds of thousands of writers penning billions of words. The website nanowrimo.org provides participants with resources, a community of support and the chance to share their creations.

It is a wonderful idea — and one of those rare realizations of what the internet was supposed to be, rather than the scum of trolling obnoxiousness it has become.

But I will never participate in this month of novel writing.

First off, I kind of struggle with the acronym than “NaNoWriMo.” While memorable in its awfulness, it’s still awful. I mean, who settled on “NaNoWriMo” when just five minutes of brainstorming could have gotten them to "Novel-ember?" And what with brevity being the soul of wit, shouldn’t we be teaching the novel writers of the future to be concise?

But there’s a bigger problem: I do not subscribe to any kind of Jeffersonian premise of universal democracy. I don’t believe that we all have A Great American Novel inside us. You, Gentle Reader, might. But I certainly don’t.

I have been a professional writer in one form or another my entire adult life, writing materials (mostly political) either for myself or on behalf of others. I have gotten far more than my Malcolm Gladwell-required 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at writing — but my focus has entirely been on creative nonfiction (like for example, the column you are reading right now).

I have zero experience with fiction.

Starting over with a different, but related, craft of my core professional skill would be more difficult than I’m willing to tolerate. I have spent years refining “my voice,” and there's a good chance every fictional character I would write would sound just like me. The only advantages that Novel-Writer Jared would have might be a terrific typing speed and the penchant for esoteric references, like “Gentle Reader.”

But that’s not all. I am horribly impatient.

When you’re writing an article about the news of the day, there is not a lot of time to stop and ponder. My impatience has been a tremendous asset to me in my journalistic writings, where the demands of the daily or weekly deadline necessitate speed over inspiration. And I can’t turn that off — nor would I (or my editors) want me to.

There’s also a very quick connection between effort and reward with creative nonfiction. If I write something on Monday and it runs on Tuesday, my brain gets a pleasant hit of dopamine to say, “Hey, good job!” Working on a book, however, can take months or years (or if you really nail NaNoWriMo, 30 days). That much effort, with no immediate reward — or no reward at all — is too much for my gratification-hungry brain.

One professor in grad school bragged to us that he’d never written a textbook since, “The opportunity cost to write a textbook is so high, anyone who would write one must not have anything better to do.”

Testify! I could write one book that might get published or 100 articles that will.

Also writing as a skill demands that writers become incredible pedants. (For example, as a compound modifier, “novel writing” demands a hyphen, so it should be National Novel-Writing Month.) That leaves little room for the joy of the craft. Writing can never be a hobby for me the way it might be for someone else.

But if it is for you, go for it next year. Maybe I will come around and do the same. After all, the world needs a stirring, 50,000-word epic about Historic Bridges Awareness Month.

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