Why NaNoWriMo? Some Thoughts On Stories

I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo at my library this past weekend and one of the questions I was asked by one of the attendees who hadn’t done NaNo before was why I thought it was worth doing. It’s a reasonable question, after all. Why undertake the mentally exhausting challenge of writing furiously for thirty days, especially when it’s very likely that much or perhaps even all of the words that you write will end up being complete junk?

There are a lot of possible answers I could have given; because it’s fun even though it’s hard. Because it’s the one time during the year that writing is a group activity and you can tell people about your novel without being the pretentious ‘oh-let-me-tell-you-about-my-novel guy.’ Because it’s good to allow yourself to be creative.

But here’s the answer I settled on and the one that I truly believe (although when I gave this answer during my presentation, I used considerably less profanity).

It’s a common saying within writing circles that everyone has at least one novel in them. Consequently, it’s popular to retort and say, no, everyone does not have a novel in them in a rather curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids sort of cane shaking. For the record, that post just happened to be the first one that I pulled up on Google; I don’t actually know if Tim Clare shakes a cane at kids on his lawn. I’m sure he’s actually a great guy and probably really nice.

Regardless, it’s trendy to be cynical and one of the best way to be cynical is to crush the idealism of others by telling them “no, the world doesn’t really need to hear your story. Your story probably sucks.” Even if Tim Clare isn’t saying that, many, many other people are. They want you to know that your story sucks. It’s bad and you should feel bad.

So here’s why I think NaNo is worth doing, no matter what you do with your story after it’s over.

NaNoWriMo is worth doing because it’s a month-long exercise in saying “fuck you” to the cynics.

A lot of people call it the “inner editor” or the “inner critic” or the “inner perfectionist.” You know what I’m talking about if you’re ever tried to create something, ever: it’s that little voice that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough or that you’re doing it wrong or that you really don’t have anything worth saying.”

I have a different name for that little guy. It’s my “dark voice.” It’s the voice that arrived in my brain sometime around middle school or early high school, right around the time that I left childhood behind and entered a world that was very eager to tell me how much I sucked, how much of a dork I was, how awkward I looked, and just how bad I was at life in general. The dark voice is always there and it’s always happy to remind me about all the things I fucking suck at in life. Writing. My job. Being a friend. Keeping my house clean. Doing yard work. Budgeting. Calling my parents. Exercising every day. Updating my blog. Blogging in general, actually.

Sometimes, people who sound a lot like my dark voice write posts about how there are too many novels in the world and really, your story sucks and you should just keep it to your own damn self.

Well, fuck those people. Fuck the dark voice.

Telling stories is what makes us human. Every single human who has ever lived or will ever live has at least one story to tell. It doesn’t matter if that story will ever be published. Being published is not the quality-meter that says “your story is worthwhile and has justified its existence.” Don’t get me wrong, being published is great, especially if you want to tell stories and get paid for it (which I really, really do).

But that has nothing to do with telling or creating stories. Creating stories is something we do and have always done as a species because it helps us figure things out. It helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. It helps us grow. Telling stories helps us be better humans.

So write your story. Write it because it’s helping you be a better you. And whether that story is 500 words long or 50,000 or 500,000, whether it takes you 30 days or 30 years, write it because every story has value. Every story deserves to exist.

Stories make us better. All stories do. The world needs more of them. The world needs every story it can possibly get.

And that includes yours. So go fucking write it.

Arizona SB 1062 Postmortem: President Obama’s Silence

Political bloggers and pundits have been talking for a few days about the fact that President Obama hasn’t publicly spoken out against Arizona SB 1062, even as others on the national political did. Both Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake spoke against the bill. Even Mitt Romney is on the record calling for a veto. But not Obama.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a while (and you really should, because it’s part of the title of this blog), I think this is reflective of an understanding of the heat Obama’s presence brings to any particular issue. Republicans might be fragmented and on the verge of splitting into two (or even three!) different parties, they might be realizing that hardline religious conservatism is a bad marriage for fiscal conservatism, but damn it, if there’s one thing that can bring those crazy kids back together, it’s how much they hate Obama and his progressive-fascist-socialist-liberal-anarchist-whatever-ist agenda.

If Obama made a comment on this issue, I think it’s a safe bet that Republicans would bunker down together and tell Washington “stay the eff out of our business” and promptly pass the bill into law. Would Jan Brewer, who was the last line of defense against this bill and is pretty famous for not really getting along with the President, have bunkered down with the rest of her party if the President had tried to tell her what to do?

Considering how the current Republican strategy is exactly that (do the opposite of everything the President wants to do), I think it’s likely.

It’s not like Obama needed to weigh in on SB 1062. His base isn’t going to start wondering, hey, does the President dislike gays? We know he’s our guy on this.

I think Democrats have realized the aggro effect Obama has on Republicans and hopefully this silence on 1062 indicates that they’ve realized how to weaponize it. Silence from the President denied the Republican party its one source of glue which allowed the fractures to widen; fractures which allowed Brewer to veto the bill without expending too much political capital within her own base.

Those fractures are turning into a canyon (Arizona metaphor alert!) and Brewer has one foot on either side on that canyon. Pretty soon she’ll need to jump to one side or the other, but that’s an issue for another day. Right now, what matters is that the President didn’t say anything and that kept the Republicans from building a bridge over their own chasm.

It’s fairly shrewd of Obama’s administration if that’s what they’re doing, even if it’s also depressing to consider how much it illustrates the level of dysfunction that’s going on if it’s better that the President didn’t get involved in this issue. Ah well. The bill is dead and that’s what matters.