NaNoWriMo, I don’t think we can be friends.

This may be difficult to explain without coming off as a fun-hating jerkmonster, but I’m determined to try. I’ve been struggling to articulate just what about NaNoWriMo feels ‘off’ to me, and I think I’ve finally reached a point where I can explain it without seeming like too much of a jerk.

My output the past fourteen days has been less than satisfactory by NaNoWriMo standards. Despite this I’m 100% satisfied with my pace and have been enjoying the excuse, however flimsy, to shut myself away for an hour or so a day and demand some peace and quiet. At the same time I see people with output that far exceeds my own (or even the recommended 1,667 words per day) gnashing their teeth over how they’re doomed to fail, how they’ve written all these words that amount to gibberish and they’ll fall behind due to not caring about it anymore. These concerns are inevitably met with a chorus of fellow participants cheering the afflicted writers on toward the 50k goal. “Win win win! Fight fight fight! Who the flip cares if you can’t write? Goooo, Wrimos!” Now… at first, this seemed really sweet and supportive. This writer is burnt out, and the other writers have banded together to cheer them on to the finish line. When I first started doing this, that was as deeply as I examined it. Now that I’ve seen it happen over and over again, and been prodded along myself, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t the most healthy way to spur people on toward creativity.

Getting that first frustrating rough draft is important. Gaining experience as a writer by, yes, writing many words, is also important. There are other aspects to consider, but the discipline to sit down, get over yourself, and throw down some words ranks high on the list for most people. It can be difficult to hold your anxiety at bay long enough to actually write down what’s in your head. NaNoWriMo doesn’t encourage that though, at least not in effect. What it does encourage is spinning out words as quickly as possible, which is not exactly the same thing.

My biggest problem with NaNoWriMo is that it turns creativity into a win or lose situation and gives indiscriminate output as the win condition. I know that implementing a system by which entries are judged and determined to be something other than rambling diatribes with entire pages taken up by repeated instances of the phrase, “I’m a little Bantha with mashed potatoes in my knickers,” would be utterly unfeasible, but I think that holding a contest with no criteria for victory beyond amount of output is a pretty terrible way to encourage creativity. Despite what some people may tell you there’s a big difference between creativity and producing stuff.

On a personal level I have trouble enjoying NaNoWriMo because I simply don’t want to win. I held off on starting this book until November because some friends of mine were doing the contest and I thought it would be fun to play along and share the experience. I don’t want to win, I want to write my story.

But, you cry, isn’t it good to get the story out fast before it gets away? Stop letting your Inner Editor get you down! Go, go, go! You still have two weeks! There’s time! Damn the typos and sod the dangling plot threads, just write like the coffee-scented wind!

To this I say: You don’t get it. My goal is not a vomit draft I can lock away in a drawer with the comforting knowledge that it meets or exceeds the extruded word matter requirement. I want something that is as close to ‘good,’ as close to my vision for the story, as it can get before I give it the one-twice-and-thrice-over with the red pens. I don’t want to make the initial editing stage any more ludicrously painful for myself by leaving behind a nonsensical word slurry I have to comb through for the three or four decent passages floating in the morass.

Maybe I’m just not the kind of person NaNoWriMo appeals to. Maybe I’m missing something I’ll never quite capture. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the model of encouragement the contest offers doesn’t sit right with me.

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The Lost Have Less to Lose: Creative comfort for a lost generation

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

-Janis Joplin

The media has taken to calling American young adults like myself The Lost Generation, left in the lurch by the recession and saddled with crippling loans from predatory institutions. High unemployment, high underemployment, no healthcare, no government assistance. Our degrees, vocational or not, have become liabilities. They scare off employers afraid of paying for educated workers and lock us into endless cycles of debt. Our trust in a system we were raised to revere is shaken and shattered. We have the lowest rate of upward social mobility in generations. We are a generation ruled by uncertainty, disillusionment, and despair.

On the other hand, a certain freedom can be found in acknowledging that you’re most likely to fail regardless of your actions. Being financially and socially boned is especially freeing, since we’re taught from childhood that hard work brings lots of money and lots of money brings all you could ever want. What we’re being taught as young adults is that hard work gets you absolutely jack, and having jack to show for your hard work gets you labeled as lazy and stupid. Before now the only people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into trying to sell their talent only to be called lazy and stupid for it were artists. Ah, and that’s where this is going.

I have been more productive as a writer, three times as productive, since I came to the realization that at this point I will never secure a lucrative career programming computers or doing field studies for advertising firms. I will never sit quietly at a desk compiling data for exactly eight hours and drive home in a car newer than I am to a home that I own. A little soul-crushing considering I was raised to attain these things and see anything less as failure, but oddly freeing at the same time. While I will never have these things, I will also never be limited by the fear of losing them. I am no longer locked into a career that would pervade my life in a field I’ve learned to resent.

I write more because the realization has given me the freedom to say “Screw it. If I’m doomed anyway, I might as well be telling stories when I’m not throwing resumes into the void.” There’s comfort in coming home from a long day of being turned away from even the simplest of jobs and knowing that you can create something. And if by some fluke you keep at it and wind up with something long enough/good enough/pretty enough to try and sell, the worst that could happen is that it won’t be bought. When you’re already doomed and have created something for its own sake, this prospect isn’t so terrifying. You’ve already tried to sell every other talent you have and been shot down, so why fret over it?

If you like me are a part of this supposed lost generation, I implore you to create. Write stories, write your memoir, write songs, draw, paint a landscape, take up a cheap instrument, something. Once you’re creating, put yourself out there. On the market, in the net, wherever.

No one can deny that these are difficult times, but it is not a time we should allow to pass us by. We are the fresh young voices being shut out of American society by hiring freezes, downsizes, and overqualification. Our experience is a unique one that imparts a unique change in perspective. Keep throwing your resumes into the void – I do, at least five times per week – but create when you allow yourself a break from that. Write instead of watching TV, paint instead of playing video games, write a folk punk tune for your $7 harmonica instead of staring out the window wondering what the Hell happened.