NaNoWriMo 2013 slowly slides to a close, with some writers who fell off their bikes on the 15th pedaling maniacally to catch up, some who pulled ahead early sipping brandy and smoking cigars, some who got lost in the maze of November crying into the 13,531 words of their half-formed SciFi/Noir/Erotica mutants, unsure of what comes next. It’s nearly time for reflection, lessons learned, time to hack away at the manuscript and see if its future is in the hands of an editor, or the hands of the garbage man.
Win or lose, you’ve entered an elite club: people who actually tried to write a novel. It’s not quite as exclusive as the full blown authorship club, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
To the uninitiated, book writing looks prestigious and shiny, all private toilets and free time and fancy notebooks. But those who’ve snuck into these hallowed halls, tried to pierce the veil of novelcraft with sharpened, inked-out pens, know its dark secret. They know what eludes so many in the dark, lonely nights of a room illuminated only by the eerie blue florescence of a computer screen.
Writing a whole book, with chapters and paragraphs and some kind of cohesive plot, is hard.
Even for the most seasoned literary book-chefs, cooking tens of thousands of delicious words to perfection and then plating them in just the right way to make them appetizing to a hungry reader is a lot more complicated than say, making toast. It requires myriad often uncomplimentary skill sets: creativity, grammar, discipline, focus, logic, organization, hygiene. It’s a highly intense and demanding art form that, at many more times than people like to admit, is a lot like work.
Even if your novel is destined for the haunted sepulcher of that box of artistic rejects under your bed, be glad that you at least tried. Trying in this case won’t actually earn you anything (sorry Millennials! I can joke because I am one), but it does teach you an incredible amount about the creative process.
You learn how much effort it takes to write a successful book. How much mental dexterity and synaptic sweat. How much time, energy, and sacrifice goes into getting those words off the couch, into the gym, and then into underwear-model shape. You should, if you even sort of tried, realize that the authors who can and do write novel after amazing novel, are not just talented mofos, but also really hard workers.
But most importantly, it teaches you to not be so critical of someone else’s art.
There is nothing worse to me than the ruthless, mean-spirited critic who unabashedly slices through someone else’s work with a scythe of subjectivity, who goes out of his way to point out every flaw, no matter how trivial, as if his judgment is the final arbiter in the decision of quality and worth. There is nothing worse than a critic who critiques in a vacuum of ignorance and inexperience. There is nothing worse than the critic who does not create, has never created, and never plans to create.
If you’ve never gotten down there into the trenches, never had to slog through off days and busy days, never had to pour the art from your seeping wounds at the expense of yourself, you don’t know what each mistake means. You don’t realize that the author or painter or brewer put a piece of themselves into that thing you just gave 2 stars out of 5. You lack empathy, compassion, and close association with what happens on the other side of the creative spectrum.
To critique without an understanding of the effort involved is lazy, often valueless, and frankly, pretty boring. Digest something from the comfort of your chair, form an opinion, express said opinion. It doesn’t require a person to truly learn a craft or skill, it’s just an open avenue for them to channel their pathos, gratify their own tunnel-vision fueled interpretation of the piece with little to no concern for its creator.
But now that you’ve tried to write a book, you’re less likely to judge other creators so harshly. You’re more likely to be sympathetic to little mistakes, more likely to connect with what the writer was trying to do, even if the execution isn’t flawless. Because you’ve been there. You know how hard it is to weave in a theme or perfect all the dialogue. Now that you’ve tried to create (or actually have created) you’re going to pass judgement with a softer, kinder, more appreciative eye.
You are now, and forever, if you have even a bit of humanistic empathy in your soul, a terrible critic. And that’s awesome.