Skimming over the NaNoWriMo forums has solidified my feeling that NaNo has split into two separate factions, though factions isn’t really the word I want. There are the writers, who have a book they want to write and possibly publish. Then there are what seem to be increasing numbers of participants, mostly teenagers, who are there to have fun and socialize. As a grumpy oldster who’s been doing NaNo for quite a while now, I wonder if this is a good thing. National Novel Writing Month wasn’t meant to be a playground for people who are more concerned about setting up playlists, deciding what tea is best during November, and competing with their friends for word count, than about actually writing.
Everything changes, of course, and institutions (which NaNo has become) change pretty drastically. But as the “rules” have become more and more forgiving and flexible, and as NaNo has become almost an “in” thing to do every year, the original intent, to encourage people to write, has been lost somewhere along the way. Is it really a great thing that last year’s participation was somewhere around half a million, when less than 20%, in any year, make it to the finish line? Maybe it says something about how NaNo has gone off course that one of the most popular threads on the forum is always how to increase your word count without actually writing a novel.
The argument that everyone uses it in their own way is logical and fair. Also, whatever goes on in the forums doesn’t affect what or how I write. But I wonder how many would-be writers are turned off by the dominant “fun” atmosphere of so many of the forums and never make use of the truly useful aspects of NaNo. And I wonder if NaNoWriMo will eventually collapse under the weight of its popularity.
As for me, I’m well into a rough outline for Empire of Masks, which was my original choice for this year, then rejected, and is now November’s goal. But Bright World of Sorrows, my vague, hand wavery choice which I then rejected, is still demanding time in the spotlight. From having no idea how to turn it into an actual story, I’ve been bombarded with plot points inspired by just about everything I’m reading lately. And one of the inspirations, though rather late to the party, is Shikasta.
Shikasta is the first volume of Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series of literary science fiction. Until a fire chased me out of my apartment and I had to make the agonizing decision of what few books I could save from the mess left behind, I owned the whole series and had reread each of the books many times. On the path back to owning old favorites, I recently got a new copy of Shikasta. My memory is always spotty, so I’d forgotten that the opening is rather dry and can be very off-putting. But delving back into it, I was amazed how prescient it was, as many great SF novels are.
What makes Shikasta different from the general run of even the best looks into the future is that the psychology of humans is a central concern. It isn’t an easy book, but for anyone who wants to delve deep into the reasons why we learn nothing from the past, it’s a must-read. Lessing was heavily influenced by a contemporary branch of Sufism, so her vision of humans is as much spiritual as psychological.