Monday Musings: NaNonFiWritMo: To Do or Not To Do?


Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 10.03.31 AMThere is pressure to publish in academia. Articles, books, chapters, lessons, this database, this citation tracker, the criteria goes on. But amidst all that publishing, sometimes writing gets the short end of the stick. This is not to bemoan the scarcity of good writing in academia (although this is true), for me it has been a challenge to go from writing one long piece (my dissertation) to a variety of pieces. It’s also been difficult to figure out what my “voice” is. While I understand that there are conventions and styles that are legitimate and are legitimated by the things that reproduce academic moraes,  I still aspire to be a writer that writes things that people actually WANT to read. One successful example of this (I think) is Mary Beard, who has gotten a segment of the (British) public more engaged about the classics.

Case in point. My colleague and I got a book contract with a major academic publishing house for what looks to be a solid book of empirically based research looking at language and social change in Central Asia. While people have generally been congratulatory, the consensus has been “You know I would never read that, right?” Understood.

I don’t know if other people in academia have this impulse, but more than the next great idea, I would love to write something funny or readable to children. Thankfully, one of my friends is a gifted graphic designer who has always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. More on the latter project later. Anyway, over the weekend I was randomly thinking – “if they have that National Novel Writing Month, I wonder if they have something like that for non fiction?” Sure enough, they do! 🙂 I’m thinking about doing it – making the commitment to write 30 short entries or stories about living and traveling abroad…

Cue Introduction/Rationale/Plan 

There is this image that people often have, of strapping on a hiking pack or dragging around a rolling suitcase, riding the rails and experiencing the adventure of a lifetime. There is a need to be both flexible and intentional in going on the adventure for most of us. There are some (and I do not fall into this category) who can just pack up and roam around, and somehow, like cat with nine lives, manage to land on their feet just fine. I am not one of those people. I fall off the bicycle just as the wind is blowing through my windblown hair. Instead of having a beautiful moment where I connect with Ethiopian women in a rural area, they think that I’m trying to steal their food (or get a bite in before everyone else) when really I was trying to learn how to make injera (clearly my Amharic and body language did not manage to communicate that).

In this sense, the beautiful photos that people post on blogs, Facebook, websites, etc. that evoke that type of wanderlust, are good but somewhat misleading.  They capture moments in time and seem to convey a holistic sense of the travel experience. In actuality, I think that a minority of travelers fall into the “glamorous” category where bags seem to float from trains and planes to the hotel, seats get upgraded to business, and that random bistro turned out to be this wonderful food experience. The majority of us make mistakes while carrying overstuffed bags and sweating profusely. But I think though, for this majority, adventure is found in the mistakes that we make (which may very well be my attempt to feel better about my own ridiculous mistakes but oh well).

Thoughts? Advice? Anyone else do something like NaNonFiWritMo or NaNoWriMo or other ridiculously acronym-ed writing initiatives?

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