November is a National Novel Writing Month – a supposedly fun collective undertaking that has a stated aim for its participants to pound away at their keyboards for 30 days, in order to produce a 50,000 word novel. The organizers of the whole thing go out of their way to stress that it is quantity that counts, urging the participants “to write without having to obsess over quality”. I have no intention to prescribe other people the kind of fun they are supposed to have (or not, as the case may be) — if writing a novel in a month is what floats your boat, then sure, go for it.
However, I can’t help but wonder where is this whole notion of “writing a novel for fun” coming from. It would seem to me that for most great novelists, writing was not something done for fun, rather than out of necessity. Kafka or Beckett didn’t write because it was so much fun – if anything, the opposite must have been the case. David Foster Wallace, a prolific producer of huge quantities of text, was obsessed over anything he wrote, constantly second-guessing its worth.
There is a passage in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera that addresses the same topic:
The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within them, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!”
For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.
One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.
Given that NaNoWriMo started 10 years ago with just 9 novels written in 30 days and has grown to 32,178 finished novels last year, this morning may be drawing close.