Oh, I really must apologize if you hopped over to this page because of the title. I'm going to drivel on about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo--but bear with me, a point about the Brontës is coming soon.
If you've been paying attention, you'll know that I'm participating in NaNo for the first time. If you're not paying attention, this may be because you're doing NaNo yourself, and you get a Free Pass to skip to the bit about the Brontës. Naturally my attention has been drawn to this article, which releases this gem into cyberspace as the core of its argument:
Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species. They don't make a big stink about how underappreciated they are; like Tinkerbell or any other disbelieved-in fairy, they just fade away.
And therefore, we should all back away from the keyboard and go read something instead of vomiting literary crap all over the bandwidth. The author goes on to laud two women who made a public commitment ("10/10/10") to read ten books in ten categories in ten months: "you are the heroes," she gushes.
Before I get to the Brontës (way to keep your reader dangling on the hook, Jane!) let me just send a pffffffft in the direction of the 10/10/10 thing. You mean they weren't reading a book a month? Yep, like most people who like to write, I also like to read. Lots. And the writers I'm buddy-buddies with on sites like Goodreads also like to read. Lots. Ten books in ten months. HA! Eat my reviews, Laura Miller.
Anyhoo, I'm quite happy to concede that a lot of us write crap. I do NOT feel sorry for the literary agents (or rather their minions) who have to sift through that crap. That's their job. More crap = more agents = more internships. That, as Martha would say, is a Good Thing.
The bit about the Brontës: they wrote crap! I'm not talking about their published writing (although I've never been a fan of Wuthering Heights, haha) but about the years and years and years they spent writing fantasy stories and scribbling diary entries like this:
It is past Twelve o'clock Anne and I have not tid[i]ed ourselvs, done our bed work or done our lessons and we want to go out to play We are going to have for
Dinner Boiled Beef Turnips potato's and applepudding the Kitchin is in avery untidy state Anne and I have not Done our music exercise which consists of b majer Taby said on my putting a pen in her face Ya pitter pottering there instead of pilling a potate I answered O Dear, O Dear, O Dear I will derictly with that I get up, take a Knife and begin pilling...
Emily Brontë was 16 when she wrote that. Thirteen years later she published Wuthering Heights, and wrote poetry like this:
No coward soul is mine,No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:I see Heaven's glories shine,And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.(Last Lines)
I'm reading Juliet Barker's definitive biography (from which that diary entry is copied) and it gives you a pretty good idea of the Brontës' juvenile work, which was interesting but far from great literature. But they wrote constantly, a thought that makes me feel much better as I neglect my home, family and personal hygiene to plug my way through my NaNo WIP. And after years of writing crap, they wrote some pretty good books.
Writers don't just spring out of the ground as fully formed literary geniuses. They have to serve an apprenticeship. I'm now only on my second novel, and I reckon I'll need to write four or five before I really hit my stride. Writers, like artists of any kind, need to practice their stuff, and NaNo is just one of the many opportunities that the internet provides to do this in community. Does it produce great literature? Rarely. Do we care if you do NaNo or not? Nope. Your choice. But if you do, I won't sneer at it.
And I'm willing to bet that there's a 16-year-old NaNoer out there, writing crap, who one day will produce a beautiful novel that will change the face of Western literature.
Must dash, people, I've got a novel to write (NOT a novella: I am aiming at an insane goal of 90,000 words before November 30). In the meantime, enjoy this rebuttal of the aforementioned Salon article. I wish I had said "literary culture isn't a temple, it's an ecosystem." But then, maybe I haven't been writing long enough.