By Dave Dentel
About twelve days into my maiden attempt at National Novel Writing Month and its insane goal of pounding out fifty thousand words in thirty days, I was struck by an amazing insight.
I am failing at this, and it’s all my friend’s fault.
To be fair, despite whining that I was clean out of engaging plots and believable characters, I felt confident I could muster the discipline and the literary chops to somehow knock out a market-worthy narrative well before the calendar flipped into December. Maybe twenty-five pages of punchy prose that would connect with today’s readers without resorting to the tropes so often used to flag a work as a known quantity—a click-and-share iteration of some sub-sub fictional genre.
In other words, when my friend challenged me to spend November writing, I decided to take it seriously.
That was my mistake.
Is That You, Princess StarDust?
I went all-in. Along with four-hundred-thousand other would-be Dostoyevskys (or is that Lemony Snicketses?) I logged into the Novel Writing Month website and registered my project.
I used my real name and a real photo. (I cheated a little—it’s a slightly younger and less wrinkly me smiling thoughtfully from my profile page.)
I strove to engage other participants by posting a query about sci-fi research. The only responses I received were from someone whose profile was named for a small mammalian predator and another person whose photo looked suspiciously like David Bowie in his role as Labyrinth’s goblin king.
Art is a Risky Business
I must confess, at first I wondered why people who are killing themselves for art would hide behind such fantastic noms de plume.
Pausing to reflect on the nature of this creative form, however, quickly set me straight.
Writing, like all self-expression, is deeply personal. It’s also subjective. Your work may be a masterpiece of wordsmithing, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone else will like it as a story.
There’s also a frightening disparity between the success every writer hopes to attain and the sad fact that most of us will probably languish in obscurity. As Jerry Jenkins pointed out about National Novel Writing Month, not one in a thousand of the perhaps millions who have taken part have seen their work published by a mainstream press.
As my wife has often told me (and she’s better at crafting prose than I am), those of us who feel compelled to invent stories and commit them to paper must accept as our primary motivation the basic, God-given urge to create. Which means as well that when it comes to capturing an audience, the best most of us can expect is to coerce family and friends into scanning our scribbling and perhaps nod in silent approval.
For outright rejection we can always look to Scholastic or Random House.
And that explains why, when exposing their artistry to an uncertain reception on the world-wide interweb, the safest strategy for a lot of writers is to adopt a silly identity and pigeonhole their work as belonging to one of umpteen genres. (Amish vampires, anyone?)
I get that.
New Year, New Persona
So next year for Novel Writing Month, forget insightful social commentaries or anything else that aspires to literature.
I’ll be scribing under the name Kitty Bomb-Pop. My stories will chronicle the exploits of a scrappy gang of cosmic felines who roam the galaxy in search of love, adventure, and the occasional can of tuna.
My wife is already working on a catchy musical theme to the tune of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.