If you are in despair at the end of #NaNoWriMo, consider writing my way.

“Yeah, but what does the divan look like?”

Illustration by: Lewis Minor

We are nearing the end of yet another “National Novel Writing Month,” which suggests to me that a few people will have accomplished something and a lot of people will have added yet another disappointment to their catalogs of regret.

I have no informed opinions about #NaNoWriMo, this because there is only one reason to write fiction, and it ain’t competition. But I hate the idea of people making art their enemy by waging a campaign on it. If you are in deep despair because you’ve piled up a lot of words – or wish you had – but made no art, why not try a different way to get the job done?

Art matters? If all you care about is milking fools by tickling their vices, you can stop now. You’re going to hate me, and I sincerely wish you and everyone who thinks that way would find something positive to do with your time, instead. Art is leadership, and so-called art that leads people to worse choices, worse behavior, worse fates – that’s not art, that’s evil. Get help – but first stop hurting people.

But does the novel matter? Why would it? The novel was visualization porn for people with limited vistas, so, alas, your detailed description of that paisley-upholstered divan was obviated by lithography even before photography. That would be two hundred years ago. People know what paisley looks like – and know not to care, since all divans are upholstered in something – so your padded word count can shrink by a lot.

Still worse, the novel was and is rebellion porn, mutiny porn, titillating the reader in precisely those ways he would would rather not disclose to whomever he looks to for approval. That’s anti-leadership, as above, but each new book also becomes another brick in the wall separating the reader from the actual objects of his fantasized mutiny. The novel becomes his reason not to repair his storgic relationships.

So that means what? Your stories are almost certainly aimed the wrong way, if you want to lead people to better futures. That means #MyKindOfBenedy, I think, the art of hope, love and redemption. But abstruse esthetics aside, your novel is definitely too long. How do I know that? Because you call it a novel.

Hence the obsession with word counts. A novel is not an affecting prose poem that encysts its insistence into your soul, like it or don’t, changing the way you see everything from then on. No. A novel is 80,000 words.

Why? Because novels are also time-wasting porn. The assumption is that adept readers roll on at about 10,000 words an hour, so a novel is intended to be an eight-hour experience. A “blockbuster” will be ten hours. Words and hours. Throw in a time-clock, and you’ve got a job.

So do you know a lot of people with time to kill? I don’t. The novel is long not because the story demands it but because the form does: We must carry on as if there had never been lithography, photography, magazines, cinema and television, we must describe in ornate detail every little last scrap of paisley on earth.

Instead: Better stories, if you dare, but shorter stories, at a minimim and at once. Most of what you think you need, you don’t. If your people, their dialogue and their actions are not enough to sell the story, expository narrative, adjectives and adverbs will prove to be doubly soporific.

I don’t promise I’m perfect about this; I know I’m not. But I write clean copy, and when I edit my word count goes down, not up. But if you think that way – dialogue only, with nothing but the minimal amount of indicative or attributive narration – you’ll write shorter, tighter, harder-hitting stories. That’s not a rule – I hate rules – just a praxis for getting better.

I think #NaNoWriMo is stupid – and destructive – because it forces an unnatural mold on what should be an organic process. Write every day, if only for the practice. Write fiction when you can’t bear not to, when to hold what you know inside you even one second longer is impossible, when the words burst out of you like a nova and it’s all you can do to cling to the maelstrom.

That’s when it’s good. That’s when it’s good for the reader, but that’s when it’s good for you, first. Good art is how you lead yourself to a better future, but you can’t lead anyone anywhere you have not been.

I sell nothing now, and no one reads me, even when they buy books. But the future of fiction is my kind of benedy, regardless. How do I know that? Survivorship bias: The kids of the people who have kids will have better values, since the best enemies of humanity have by now chosen to reproduce rarely and inauspiciously.

Meanwhile: No redemption for the writer, no redemption for the reader – and therefore there will be no more anti-redemption art. The rebellion against reality ends with the funeral of the last rebel. People who want to live will want benedy – they will want to live because of benedy.

Teach yourself to think that way, and you’ll get done what you want done. If that turns out to be a novel, I promise to be amazed. If it turns out to be work you love more than any you’ve done before – spread the word.

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  • These are some of the unbreakable-novelist-rules I deliberately broke in Dusty, just because it was fun for me to demonstrate how stupid those rules are:

    No one is described. Not even the dog, except to specify his breed – and only that because it was funny.

    Almost nothing else is described, either, and even then in only the most minimal way – just enough for you to see everything else on your own.

    For example: Willie’s mom’s house is a cracker-box that contains a sofa, a bed and a bathroom with a shower. Nothing else is specified and nothing is described.

    No one in Hades speaks for himself, except Willie. All other speech there is characterized – narrated. No one east of Texas gets to talk.

    I’m playing time games and nested narration games all over the place; there is one sentence I’m not sure I can parse.

    Meanwhile, the story is all but entirely narrative – that reads like dialogue. If you thought about words the way I think about words, you’d be the one saying this to me: Verbs are where the action is.

    There are all kinds of other games in there, word-play games and mix-’n’-match myths, but the ultimate truth is here: What makes a story is a storyteller. If you want to make better stories, train yourself to be a better storyteller.