*Too Many Novels Exist Already
If you’ve ever written a novel, contemplated writing a novel, have a friend who has, or have looked at trending hashtags on Twitter recently, you are no doubt aware that November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short.
National Novel Writing Month is also a non-profit, with a mission to organize “events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.”
That’s a noble mission. I’m happy for the 310,095 people who participated in NaNoWriMo in 2013 and realized their dream of getting 50,000 words down on paper or in pixels in thirty days. But it makes me wonder: does the world need more novels? Who will read them? Where will they end up?
Does the world need more stories?
This may seem an odd question 1) for an author who is 2) at work on a new novel 3) about a future society 4) in which storytelling is nearly extinct and only its revival can save humanity. But the question is evidence of the gnawing anxiety that materialized shortly after I published Dance of Souls and which fellow novelist Carrie Rubin explored in a recent blog post. We writers need to make peace with the wild proliferation of our form. Still, my feeling that the world is being overrun by stories may explain why I have never participated in NaNoWriMo.
If you’re a writer, it doesn’t matter what the world needs
I completed my first novel using a Royal typewriter, before there was a www to offer web-enabled challenges and before many people dedicated themselves to “fostering self-expression while building community.” Writing the novel was a solitary pursuit, despite the fact that I typed at the kitchen table of the Brookline apartment I shared with four other young adventurous souls. I wrote because something inside told me I must. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read the completed work (very few people have). I didn’t share my word count. I merely faced the blank page whenever I could and tried to dive deep into the minds and motivations of the people I was conjuring on the page.
I’m not sure the too-many-novels problem fully explains why I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. Nor is it that I’m against using technology to aid in writing, or that I can’t handle a deadline. I’ve written plenty of articles, blog posts, and even books to beat a date.
Here’s the truth about writers: Despite what we may say about wanting to find our audience, the hard core among us will keep writing whether or not we reach any readers. People who take up writing for the acclaim might want to do something easier, like walking on a tightrope between two buildings, blindfolded. And those who write a novel because it sounds like fun and everyone else is doing it this month—well, let me know how that goes, and, more tellingly, if you do it again next year.
I am not an extrinsically motivated writer. I write fiction at my own tempo. I write because I have no choice. I would write if I were the only writer in the world and, dare I say, if there were no readers in the world.
What is one thing you would do even if no one were paying attention?
After all of this, you may be surprised to hear that my writing partner and I have decided to participate in NaNoWriMo in 2015. Because the world really, really needs two more novels.