This November, success is in the bag

If you hear an odd metallic noise anytime in November, just ignore it.  It’s the sound of literary standards being ratcheted down another notch. 

Under normal circumstances, we readers maintain the loftiest of expectations, which of course do not include cliché’s, repetitive word choices, or plot mechanisms that either strain credulity or just downright insult it.

But these are extraordinary times, my friend.  November is National Novel Writing Month, and this year I am (usually late at night) concocting what is tentatively dubbed Another Terrible Novel.  Given that 50,000 words are required to cross the finish line on November 30, I’m not far behind the pace at my current 22,184.  This sum has only been achieved thanks to vats of caffeine and no thanks to a few unscheduled events of the sort that promise to continue throughout the month.

Does this sound like an excuse for a further diminishment of prose quality over the next two weeks?  Oh, good; that’s a relief.  To be fair (to myself) we NaNoWriMo aspirants know at the outset that quantity really is the goal.  To produce a 150-page document in 30 days, writers are compelled to “just go with it”.  In the sheer desperation of getting something–anything–down on the page, they are driven to thoroughly ransack their memories and psyches for material.

The process is much like finding oneself back in elementary school;  it’s lunchtime, and you’re opening the mysterious brown paper bag that you’ve carried all morning but didn’t inventory until this minute.  Clearly requiring sustenance, you dig deep and drag everything out.   Appalled at first by offerings that look unpalatable (to you and, you’re sure, every other person in the lunchroom) you check again–and spy a raw vegetable slightly past its prime.

Now, you’re generally more of a cheese-and-crackers or apple sort of person, but those options aren’t present.  Suddenly that carrot or whatever represents all manner of possibilities.  With creative thought, it could be rendered quite satisfying.   And–on a very few occasions–you peer into the sack just once more and discover a tantalizing morsel that anyone would covet.  You had only to delve into those dark recesses.

This all explains why writing quality occurs as a happy surprise, not an expectation, when the writer grasps frantically to fill in a blank.  I once noted that, in an otherwise nicely written novel, the author chose the phrase “shaped like a sarcophagus” enough times that it evolved into a joke, detracting from a more than competent story line.

Last week, on the verge of creating a time-traveling heroine deserving of a dashing name, I assisted a library customer searching for a book by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier.  Brilliant!  That night, my character was christened “Augusta”.   And I realized how unsuspecting library customers could aid me in answering the 50,000-word question.  I only have to pay attention.   And they’ll easily find me at the reference desk.  It’s as large as a sarcophagus.

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