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The creative process cannot be quantified

In Books, Children and Family, crafts, Entertainment, Local News, National News, Opinion, Print Media, Technology, Uncategorized on November 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm

If you haDIH LOGOve any friends who are aspiring novelists and you haven’t seen them for a while, I may know why. November is National Novel Writing Month, a time when writers – hobbyists and professionals alike – forsake virtually everything else in life to get down at least 50,000 words towards a completed novel in just thirty days. As executive director of the Western Ohio Writers Association I am, like many of our members, one of the anticipated 400,000 worldwide participants in the event. But attempting to pen a full-length novel in under a month is not for the faint of heart.

“NaNoWriMo,” as it’s known for short, is a non-profit organization started in 1999. In 2013, more than 310,000 participants signed up, spanning six continents. In the 2014 official press release, NaNoWriMo Executive director Grant Faulkner said, “Every year, we’re reminded that there are still stories that have yet to be told, still voices yet to be heard from all corners of the world. NaNoWriMo helps people make creativity a priority in life and realize the vital ways our stories connect us. We are our stories.”

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Given their commitment to the encouragement of writers as a whole, the NaNoWriMo folks certainly seem to want to keep people motivated and working and that extends beyond the November event. The organization also promotes youth programs, writing camps and other writing-focused activities throughout the year.

NaNoWriMo’s organizers insist the purpose of the 30-day novel challenge is to inspire and motivate authors to actually finish something, a common barrier for new writers. To hit the goal, writers must pen approximately 1,667 words per day, regardless of quality. But the “just keep writing” approach doesn’t sit well with some and there are those who say that it instead may be more counterproductive than helpful.

Opponents believe that the idea of such incredible pressure of deadline and competition undermines the inspirational process; robbing the author of the creative time necessary to be more selective of words, phrasing and flow.  Classic American author Mark Twain might well have been in agreement with this thinking.

In a letter dated October 15, 1888 to English minister George Bainton, Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

nanologoBut those who are regular participants seem to really enjoy a process that they say gives them the opportunity to stay focused and inspires a bit of healthy competition. Throughout the month, each writer updates a public profile on the NaNoWriMo website which includes word count to date; a practice largely appreciated as one of the most motivating aspects of the exercise, or the most discouraging, depending on how you’re doing.

Whether you are a writer or a reader, this is probably a good time to point out that the creative process is not something that can be qualified or quantified. It is different for every artist. While there are people who are proficient with grammar, punctuation, style and general mastery of the English language, there is no such thing as an “expert” writer. Most successful authors – and not just in the commercial sense – will insist that good writing cannot be taught, it has to be practiced and that the creative process is ongoing.

It may very well be that a 30-day novel, after editing and revision, could end up the next New York Times best seller. It is just as probable that another manuscript, in the works for many years, might turn out to be the worst 300 pages ever put to paper. It’s really a coin toss.

Truthfully, the process really doesn’t matter. Although the value of art rests with the audience, its quality depends on the talent, determination and hard work of the artist (writer), rather than the method used for its production. As for those of you typing your way to 50,000 words this month, we who are grateful to get out 700 words every week salute you! Good luck.

 

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and executive director of the Western Ohio Writers Association. More at westernohiowriters.org.

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