|Go ahead and click, you know you want to.|
You may also know it's National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, wherein across the world, thousands of would-be writers attempt to bang out a novel, or a draft of a novel, or 50,000 words, over the course of a 30 day month (that includes Thanksgiving). It's a social event, a popular uprising, and a lifestyle rolled into one.
It's also another clue that writing fiction has entered a golden age of folk art popularity.
Really? How can writing be folk art, though? It's not that hard. According to most definitions, folk art is produced by indigenous or peasant population, and contrasts with fine art as being uninfluenced by trends or movements in academic circles. Folk art is characterized by a naive style, without any of the trappings of 'cultured' or 'high-brow' artisanship. It's often passed down hand-to-hand, like sewing circles, or the hootnannies of bluegrass music.
Is Imaginator1D's work Folk Art? I think it meets most definitions. I'm not sure about indigenous or peasant, but certainly Imaginator1D is untrained as a writer, and works outside the walls of academia, free of its 'rules' and aesthetics. And by literary standards her prose is amateurish and sloppy (the paperback edition promises to clean up the punctuation). This is no doubt a side effect of her writing most of the book on her cell phone. No one seems to mind the poor punctuation or misspellings, and, I'd wager, the clumsy vernacular phrasing seems to make her more relatable to her audience.
I think it's undeniable that her work is a genuine piece of folk art. I don't mean that as a disparaging comment, either - folk art is one of the treasures of the world.
|The NaNoWriMo coat of arms.|
But that's an academic mindset. In the freewheeling anarchy of folk art, everything is celebrated, as long as the effort is pure.
Anyway, it's their dream, their commitment, not yours. If they're that close to the tip of Maslowe's hierarchy of needs that this is how they're able to spend their free time, more power to them. We all need our communities after all, and there's no more tight community than the NaNWriMo forums, where questions are posted like, "What's my monster's weakness" and "What would you be doing the day before killing yourself."
Partly it's sad to see people posting questions asking for help with the very essense of what writers do - thinking up plots and characters. It's something they'd do well to learn in a workshop or class. On the other hand it's nice they're out there helping each other. You could say they've found their own workshop on the forums. And no doubt, some of them will get it. Some of them will produce decent books, I'm sure. Some will write daily, year round, with discipline and skill. Eventually.
And that's what Folk movements are all about - people training each other to produce what the community needs. How can I, a crotchety old pseudo-socialist, object to that?
Other random thoughts:
1. I don't think traditional publishing has as much to fear from new modes of distribution as they think. Most of the breakaway hits of the Internet age have been genre, and some of them have been pure examples of folk writing - 50 Shades of Grey and After being prime examples. The internet has yet to produce a GRR Martin, a Margaret Atwood, or a 'literary' star - these still seem to be coming from literary academia, writing programs, and the occasional odd genius groomed by a mentoring publisher.
2. The thematic similarities between After and 50 Shades of Grey are curious. In both, a virginal young woman finds her sexual awakening at the hands of a brutish, dominating figure of authority. I suspect this may be an example of the Cupid/Psyche myth still having a brutal resonance within our society, but I don't know. But their fundamental parallels with Beauty and the Beast would only support my argument that these are at heart Folk Tales updated for a modern audience by naive savants suited to tapping into the zeitgeist.
2.5 They're also both kind of porny. Let's not kid ourselves here: People like porny stuff.
3. Writing talent isn't what you think it is. In the digital world, everything is about attracting eyeballs, and being a writer now means generating buzz by being approachable and social. Imaginator1D reportedly spent up to 3 hours a day interacting with her readers, getting suggestions and gathering praise. That's a rare talent in itself.
4. There are huge audiences that don't want, in fact don't trust, 'literary' interventions on their reading. They don't need marketing campains, Barnes and Noble, and book tours. They don't even need proper punctuation. Sometimes what they want is their own pre-existing ideas fed back to them, or the thrill of interacting with the art as it is created. The echo chamber effect is, maybe, an artistic process in itself.
4.5 I think there are ways to monetize this phenomenon which have nothing to do with packing up the script as a book and selling it in traditional markets. Wattpad has experimented with inserting ads into the experience; but I'd wager something more unconventional will emerge. Stay tuend.
5. And, finally, and this one hurts but it's true: literary standards can inhibit mainstream success. There is such a thing as trying too hard.