"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       

A Few More Lessons from Nanowrimo

November 9th, 2015 by

As is perhaps true of the “Winter Holidays,” each of us celebrates Nanowrimo in his or her own way. I am here to say that I have proudly gone into the second week of this November novel writing month having added 4,000 more words to my total, though it hasn’t been easy. As the first week of November has passed, I’ve learned something that I can apply to my life as a writer before and after Nanowrimo. This blog offers that and an excerpt from my Nanowrimo project, which is not really a novel at all but a fake self-help book, a piece of parody that is beginning to take itself very seriously the more chapters I add to it.

The Lessons of Nanowrimo
First, though, here’s the take-away for me from this month.

Though I am not working every day on my self-help parody, I am writing nearly every day. Indeed, writing every day on just the self-help book has been impossible with my job, which I am unable at present to leave. I just have had too many meetings and course preparation and paper grading to deal with. And I have my family. In the last week, my second daughter has had her senior art show, and that has been a success and taken up a lot of time.

But I am writing every day. Over the weekend, I did add 4,000 more words to my project. This morning, I worked on a memoir that I have been working on since January. So I am keeping busy, and it is the act of writing that is easy to keep going, if not just the single project, which can get stalled when I hit different sections and run out of ideas. Having more than one project to write keeps the writing juices flowing, and this keeps me from fears of failure and believing I have nothing to say.

This is a direct result of participating in Nanowrimo, though I think I knew this already from previous writing experiences. And, when I reported my first word count to the website, I got back a message congratulating me on “becoming a real writer.” I’m sorry, but I’ve been writing and publishing for years. I almost quit when I read that. Almost. I’m glad I stayed with it now, though. the writing continues to flow.

The Last Self-Help Book
And with that take away, here is an excerpt from the project. I hope it inspires you. I hope it encourages you to pick up your pen, computer, or Ipad and get going.
(From Chapter One: The Problem is in the Solution)
“Of the making of many books, there is no end,” the Preacher writes.

My wife, who married a writer, has long quoted this line to me. Though not a fan of the Book of Eclesiastes, she knows it well. “Vanity of vanities,” she proclaims. “This too is striving after wind,” she says. I have begun to suspect that she is herself something of a writer, or at least a thinker. She loves the fullness of these ideas. She loves the concreteness of these expressions. Most of all, she loves quoting them to me. She seems to think that she has an audience. It is the most direct way she has of addressing the areas of my life about which I may be the most deceived. After years of hearing her say these things from a book we both know well, I may not have given up on writing. But I will admit that there are many things that this book gets right about the funny, puny nature of the human race I have come to recognize. This book of the Old Testament gets it right where the many books in the self-help genre we are about to investigate do not.

Indeed, my wife and the Preacher are right. When I survey the self-help section of the local bookstore, I see that there is no end to the writing of many books. What is more, these books all claim something similar. They all offer answers in the form of simple advice, and location doesn’t seem to matter. In this way, they appear democratic and American—it doesn’t matter about your gene pool or your lack of royal blood, and it doesn’t matter where you live. A few steps and a few principles is all you need to get on track, whatever that track may be. Here is a random sampling from a recent search on Amazon:

Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behaviors
Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your life
Achieve Anything in Just One Year
Self-Coaching: The Powerful Program to Beat Anxiety and Depression
Dating the Wrong Men: The Misadventurer’s Guide Through Bad Relationship Choices
8 Great Habits of Extremely Effective Christians
One-Week Willpower: A Simple Foundation to Become More Successful, Likeable, and Achieve your Dreams

The first thing to note is how great these titles are. I especially am drawn to “The Misadventurer’s Guide through Bad Relationship Choices,” though I may have to admit that my interest is less than pure.

There are more where these came from, and though some sound tougher than others, they all offer the same encouragement that all problems, whether behavioral, personality-driven, or genetic, can be submitted to a few quick, simple steps. They also tend these days to have a distinctly metaphysical, almost spiritual feel and appeal at the same time that they offer the same old American contradiction. First, you can have the power to change your own life. Second, you need to get out of the way. So you need to do both. You need to take charge and feel the power. And you need to get out of the way.

But just keep it simple. Keep it focused. That’s what the readers of these books seem to lack. Simplicity and focus. Get out of the way.

It would also appear from some of the titles I haven’t listed that they have gotten meaner. Gone is the late seventies total acceptance in a title like I’m Okay, You’re Okay. Instead, today we find Five Steps to Finding Your Inner Badass. It appears that while they still need the help, the people targeted in this book are tired of just fitting in. They look up to the Donald Trumps of the world, and they just still care a little too much about what other people think of them to achieve their goals. For these readers, there is a new connection between making money and being a bully. They admire people who aren’t afraid to step over others to get what they want.

The only surprise here for me is that we need a book to tell us how to do that.

(Stay tuned. More to come for the month of November)

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