I have a new favorite phrase this week. It is “the narcissistic commerce of writing.” I’m not sure what it means, but I love it anyway. Now instead of telling people that I spent my day revising or writing my novel, I’m going to say that I spent the day engaging in the narcissistic commerce of writing. Make that into a hashtag, Twitter.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far without clicking the link, let me spare you the trouble. The link goes to a Salon article by Laura Miller called “Better yet, don’t write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy,” which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the article. Not only does the author completely miss the concept of NaNoWriMo, but also she pretty much slaps any would-be writer in the face and basically says that if you can’t get the job done without NaNoWriMo, then you’ve no business trying to be a writer.
Wow. Snap judgements much?
It isn’t like I haven’t heard this sort of derision before and not just about NaNoWriMo. What is it about writing that brings out the hateful in other people? Why is writing the only hobby that requires a measure of success beyond simply doing it and enjoying it? Why are there no articles deriding the narcissistic commerce of cooking or the narcissistic commerce of crocheting. (You know, I’ve used this phrase three times now and I still have no idea what it means.) And why is it that so much of this contempt comes from other writers? (Ms. Miller appears to have a couple of book credits to her name and isn’t the article proof that she herself engages in the narcissistic commerce of writing?)
I’ve wondered if it’s jealousy. I know what jealousy feels like. I know what it’s like to be writing for 10 years, to receive one rejection after another from lit mags and then to watch an acquaintance get a handsome book deal from her blog. Oh yeah. I know jealousy. But what I don’t understand is stomping on other people’s dreams.
In a couple of hours my husband will come home from work and get an earful about the article. He’ll likely nod and shake his head in disbelief at all the right places and he’ll probably ask me why I was reading some jerk’s opinion instead of working on my own novel. A little while later I will go out for drinks with my girlfriends and I will tell them all about the article and we’ll all roll our eyes and share our stories of jerks who try to crush our dreams. And they’ll ask me how NaNoWriMo is going and how my revisions are going because they care. Because they know that just because I haven’t been published (yet) doesn’t mean I don’t take what I do seriously.
I’m pretty lucky to have people in my life that support what I’m doing, but not everyone has that support system. I read something like this article and it’s water off a duck’s back (after a significant amount of ranting, of course), but what about those people who don’t have that support system? What about the college student that dreams about writing a novel, but is going into accounting because her parents want her to have job security. What about a housewife who has a great idea for a romance novel, but doesn’t think she can find the time to write it? Now imagine that two days into making a crazy attempt at fulfilling a dream, they read a discouraging article like this one.
When you’re surrounded by other writers and people in the writing industry, it’s pretty easy to forget what it’s like to just start out. It’s easy to forget that writing can be a big scary thing, so scary that many people want to, but never do it. NaNoWriMo isn’t for the pros; it’s for the people that need to just take a chance and follow a dream. I think some people have forgotten that.