Wednesday, November 23, 2005

National Sonnet Writing Month

Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries has run plumb wild with the English language this month. I have been enjoying her students' blogs, indexed at Doctor D's Domain, "the place where a class of Expository Writing students (and their instructor) are learning to write before a live Internet audience." Of course her "regular blog" has been a "regular read" of mine for the past 18 months or so. This month, on top of participating in National Novel Writing Month, she has started blogging her novel-writing process on Get It Written, which she describes as "A virtual meeting place for writers facing daunting projects." To recap, she's teaching composition, she's blogging, she's writing a novel in a month, and she's blogging about writing a novel in a month. She is the Energizer Bunny of the keyboard.

I think National Novel Writing Month is an intriguing concept. To quote their Web pages,

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30....Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
I thought about participating, but when I considered all the verbiage I've churned out to meet deadlines, I decided what I needed was not more practice in generating output, but in identifying what's worthwhile and deleting the rest. I think I need National Sonnet Writing Month.

Still, I take Lorianne as an inspiration. In the maiden post of Get It Written, she says:

... I'm doing NaNo again this year purely as a writing exercise. Like a runner who trains for a marathon not with delusions of winning but solely as a way to push the envelope of her own strength and endurance, I'm doing NaNo this year to remind myself, again, that my Creative Muscle is stronger than I think....I hope to hear the input of other people on the journey: those of you who are facing daunting projects of your own (NaNo or otherwise), and those of you who are watching from the sidelines.
Taking her at her word, I boldly posted that I too was facing a daunting task.
"After many years of technical writing and editing for scientific journals, grant proposals, and lab notebooks, I'm trying to get back to the sort of writing that excited me before all those years of grad school. 11/09/2005"
She responded encouragingly, and added,
I briefly spent some time years ago doing tech writing, and it wasn't intimidating (to me) in the same way that creative writing is. Because I didn't really care about the "craft" of the finished product, I could simply churn out anything. Creative writing is (for me) scarier because I want it to be *good*, not just "adequate."
I thought this was a very interesting observation. When I've done technical writing, I have been concerned about quality--at least part of the time it was determining the course of my career, so it seemed very important to me. I really enjoy good technical writing, and I would even add that good technical writing is creative.

Still, I agree technical writing is less intimidating than "literary" writing. For me, knowledge of my audience is what determines how white my knuckles are when I write, and I know who reads technical writing. For scientific papers, I know that many readers will not be native speakers of English. Complex sentence structure, unusual words, and literary references will frustrate them the way I have been frustrated in German, Spanish, Latin.... For laboratory protocols or Linux "how-to's" the reader will be referring to the writing while working, so it needs to be clearly organized and easy to follow. Grant review panel members need to determine whether a proposal is appropriate for the funding source. Echoing the language of the call for proposals makes this easy for the reviewers, and it makes them like your grant better. But who's reading my essay on Wendell Berry? Who's reading my sonnet (from National Sonnet Writing Month, see above)? Who's reading this?


fred said...

Energizer Bunny. That's 'spot on' re Lorianne! And I'm in that transition myself between writing technically and the scarier kind. I have some months away from the chalkboard and hope the muse hasn't gone south for the winter.

And re Sonnet Writing--are you familiar with Pratie Place, whose blogmistress once made custom sonnet-writing a paying gig!

Rebecca Clayton said...

Thanks, Fred, for the pointer to Pratie Place's sonnet-writing story. Hers is a blog I visit as time permits, and I missed that one. (Gotta love a fellow concertina player.)
In my experience, the muse doesn't really go far; she just stays out of sight until you stop looking for her, kind of like a timid cat.
I've been following your construction progress with interest. We keep waffling on adding to our house. Should we expand the kitchen, or is the house going to fall down in the near future? We just can't decide. You're lucky you have a different kind of old farm house.