It’s November; ’tis the season of month-long marathon creative endeavors, such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) For NaNoWriMo, participants aim to complete an original novel-length manuscript within a month.
NaNoWriMo has existed for over a decade now and has grown into a subculture of sorts, spilling into offline participation and local chapters that meet at coffeeshops and restaurants to write and cheer each other on. For some, I suspect the in-person community of NaNoWriMo means as much, if not more, than the creative process of writing.
Salon writer Laura Miller took aim at NaNoWriMo a couple of days ago, an anti-NaNoWriMo screed which derides the process as a breeding ground of sub-standard literature, filling amateur novelists with false hope of publication and a potential audience.
Miller may indeed be correct in her assumption, but here’s what bugged me ab0ut her rant:
… NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When 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. (italics my own)
While I am sure far too many NaNoWriMo participants use the exercise as a (possibly) misguided springboard into pro writing. But it’s troubling to me that Miller can’t fathom the idea that not all participants in NaNo (or writing in general) participate with commerce as an endgame.
It troubles me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Creative expression in general -writing, visual art, photography, music – seems to be regarded as culturally useless unless attached to some kind of commercial goal. The process of creating art or media just because is not applauded, only evaluated for its commercial potential. Miller’s thesis is rooted in the mass-media mindset of “professional creatives create, consumers consume and never the twain shall meet.”
Consumption of “professional” creative work is valued and rewarded more than creative play. That is just a fact.
But why is a writer (or artist or musician) not perceived as “real” or “legitimate” unless they are being paid to perform or share their work? Why are they derided if they don’t care about being paid? Why is the emotional currency of creating and sharing creative work – not valued unless it is professionalized?
For a number of NaNoWriMo participants, the process, not the result, is the true currency. The opportunity to stretch a creative muscle, meet new friends, freely write smut for their own amusement (oh wait, i guess that was why I did NaNo last year.) It’s about passion, not commerce.
Miller misses the mark on another point: creatives do consume. I don’t know any writer, amateur or professional, who is not an avid reader as well. Most musicians are music geeks, most filmmakers are film buffs. It’s more than condescending to tell individuals to “sit back and let the professionals do their job” rather than engage in a pastime they take pleasure in.
So write on, NaNoWriMo’s! Creative expression should belong to everyone, not just for those who wish to earn a living from it.