The Start of a Novel

by Rachel Wicks

Halloween has passed and November has begun, but to those who concern themselves with writing and literature, this month has more to celebrate than just turkey and cranberry sauce on the fourth Thursday of the month.

For those who know don’t know, November is also known as National Novel Writing Month (usually referred to as NaNoWriMo) and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce a 50,000 words by the end of November, meaning that writers should aim to write a minimum of 1,667 words a day in order to finish their novel in the allotted time.

NaNoWriMo occasionally gets a lot of backlash from critics who claim that there is no possible way that a novel can be successfully completed in a single month. They claim that writing isn’t about word count—it’s about the quality of the writing. They say that NaNoWriMo is meaningless because the time constraints on the writing can only lead to writers producing 50,000-word documents of mangled literary garbage.

In my opinion, the critics are correct on some points, such as writing not solely revolving around word counts, but those against NaNoWriMo don’t seem to understand that the purpose of each November is to make drafts. A fully-fledged novel, ready to be published in a moments notice, can’t feasibly be created in a month. Writing needs editing, precision, and a certain finesse that can’t be managed in so little time.

But what people forget is that writing also needs to be started, and often times that’s the hardest part of all.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write my own novel, and I’ve been aware of NaNoWriMo since I was 13. I’m 21 now, and although I’ve never successfully managed to find the time to complete the 50,000 word goal, I want this year to be different. I want 2016 to be the year I prove to myself that I can write an entire draft of a novel, that I do have the personal discipline required to dedicate enough time each day to writing 1,667 words, and that not only can I begin a novel but I can end it too.

Looking through the literature that has been assigned through the CLTL program, I sometimes wonder what classic authors of the current literary canon would have done had they also lived in a time where NaNoWriMo existed. Would they have seized the chance to join a group of writers all struggling to get 50,000 words out of themselves in a timely manner?

It’s rather hard to imagine the greats like Hemingway, Austen, and even Shakespeare doing NaNoWriMo, but those authors all had to force themselves to start their novels somehow. There used to be a time when Charles Dickens only had the first line of A Tale of Two Cities written down, but that line led to a full fledged book.

NaNoWriMo provides authors, especially new authors, the chance to let their writing flourish by starting and (just as importantly) finishing a full draft, unhindered by the idea that writing has to be perfect the first time the pen hits paper. Every great author in history has known that perfect writing takes practice and does not happen overnight. With this idea in mind, I intend to use this month to generate some first-draft literature of my own. It won’t be pretty, and I probably won’t be too proud of the content, but I will be proud of myself for accomplishing a goal and taking the first step towards completing a dream.

So, if you have the time, maybe 2016 can be the year you start writing too. The next great generation of novels lining the shelves of future bookstores (and iPads) has to be written by someone, and maybe that someone is you.

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the Changing Lives Through Literature conversation

by Marissa Matton

Proving that Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) produces news-worthy results, the program was recently featured in two articles.

In an article for news station WBUR, Deborah Becker highlights a recent CLTL graduation ceremony held in Dorchester District Court. Along with Becker’s description of how the program runs are quotes from those involved–both students and facilitators. Hearing from participants from both sides of the program reveals the secret to CLTL’s success.

Facilitator Tam Neville describes literature as a “tool to help provoke thoughtful discussion and to develop relationships”. According to Judge Weingarten, a facilitator of the Dorchester men’s program, his job is to create a safe place for discussion, which is the key to the program’s participants making changes in their lives. As the students reflect on their readings, they relate lessons from the literature to their lives.

Probation officer Pamela Pierce notes how the students learn from each other, changing their views of not only the criminal justice system, but also themselves–a key to them not committing new crimes after graduating from the program. Abby, one of the Dorchester graduates, praises the relationships she made and attributes the program for putting her on the college-bound track.

This type of personal change is the basis of Elizabeth Svoboda’s article for DailyGood. Svoboda weaves together tales to discuss the importance of storytelling–an agent of transformation.

CLTL is described in the article as “proving that well-told stories can also re-orient the lives of adult offenders”. The connections that can be made between literature and our lives is clear in the example Svoboda provides of a student connecting The Old Man and the Sea to his own struggle with drugs.

There are lessons to be learned for all of us, not just the CLTL students. And as made evident by all those who participate in CLTL, discussion is the key to unlocking these lessons. The conversation created by Becker and Svoboda are important and align with the goals of this blog–to sustain conversation beyond the classroom. Let’s continue the conversation and keep learning from one another.

more articles about Changing Lives Through Literature

CLCM Monthly Reader: December

Click on the links in each piece to read more about the people, news, and events featured here. 

Ex-New York gang leader Louis Ferrante shares how literature changed his life

photo by jerry bauer

An article posted by the British news site Rochdale Online reviews New York gang leader-turned-author Louis Ferrante’s visit to a local literacy celebration event. Ferrante, a former member of the Gambino crime family and perpetrator of many high stakes robberies, served 8 1/2  years in maximum security prisons for refusing to cooperate with the family’s associates. He read his first book while in prison–a step that started Ferrante down the path of reading and writing frequently. Ferrante later went on to write a book himself, Unlocked: A Journey from Prison to Proust, published in March 2008. 
 

In the Rochdale article, Ferrante speaks about the transformation he underwent while reading literature in prison:

“I realised that I had a choice to make. I could choose to be different and lead a law abiding life if I truly wanted to. The day I decided to be different was the day my whole life changed. When I started to read, I realised that I could escape beyond the prison walls. I read about people who had made something of themselves and I started to believe that is was not too late for me. From reading a book I began to think I could write a book, and so that’s what I did.” 


 

Hamilton College’s English Department discusses its fall course in prison literature

hamilton college logoIn a press release issued on December 23, Hamilton College student Nora Grenfell discusses a recent English Department course on prisoner-authored literature entitled “Booked: Prison Writing.” The course’s instructor, Associate Professor Doran Larson, previously led a creative writing workshop for inmates at the infamous Attica Correctional Facility in New York. He proposed the Fall 2008 course as a means of introducing students to the human side of prison life, using both carefully selected readings and a mandatory visit to the Attica prison. The course description  reads as follows:
 

Prisons have been the settings for scenes of tragedy, comedy, romance and social protest. While aware of this use of the prison as a literary device, we will read writers who have actually suffered incarceration. We will read canonical texts (by Plato, Boethius, King), post-colonial prison writers (Abani, Thiong’o), and the work of men and women inside the American prison system. Among other requirements, students will read work by and visit men in a writing class taught inside Attica Correctional Facility. 
 

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