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I have a letter in The New York Times.

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Just three days into NaNoWriMo — and, as my stats show, I’ve kept up so far — and the very act of amateur novel writing is under attack from Salon’s Laura Miller. In a column yesterday she argued that National Novel Writing Month amounts to “a lot of crap.” It’s not apt to produce many highly literary works, she says, noting that publishers cringe upon seeing the term “NaNoWriMo” dotting hastily written cover letters each December.

That’s fair — most of the novels, mine surely to be included, probably aren’t stellar. “The last thing the world needs is more bad books,” Miller writes. Frankly, more bad books are hardly the last thing the world needs, and such blatant hyperbole indicates perhaps she suffers from a narrow worldview. Miller’s unspoken assumption here is that bad literature is inherently worthless both to society at large and to the writer or artist. To presume the production of bad art (and here, of course, we ignore the much stickier argument of what “good” and “bad” art are) has no purpose is both outrageous and short-sited. It’s a cliché, to be sure, but practice makes perfect has a great deal of truth to it.

To prove Miller’s folly, let’s explore an analogy. Food and culinary concerns apply to all people, just as reading and writing do. In this metaphor, fine literature is fine cuisine, junk novels are junk food and the rest falls somewhere in between. There are increasingly more people who never cook — and by cook I mean actually combining ingredients and following instructions to produce a balanced yet satisfying meal, not heating a frozen pizza or slapping together a quick sandwich. There are also some people who generally eat dinner out, consuming the word of a professional. The rest of us enjoy some combination of eating out and cooking ourselves. My chicken cacciatore may not be as decadent as Mrs. Robino’s or even Olive Garden, but by Miller’s argument rather than preheat my oven I should simply eat out all the time where I can enjoy a well-prepared meal.

In the same vein, there’s no point running a marathon because tens of thousands of other people run marathons all the time; quilting hobbyists might as well just buy a professionally manufactured quilt; cellists should retire their bows because they likely will never be as talented as Yo-Yo Ma; and philatelists should just visit the National Postal Museum every once in a while because that’s how the professionals do it.

Fortunately, poor quality isn’t Miller’s primary gripe with NaNoWriMo. “But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.” NaNoWriMo targets writers, she says, forgetting to clarify that the real targets are non-writers seeking a challenge.

Miller is also extremely worried that some NaNoWriMo participants don’t consider themselves great readers.

Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books. Even authors who achieve what probably seems like Nirvana to the average NaNoWriMo participant — publication by a major house — will, for the most part, soon learn this dispiriting truth: Hardly anyone will read their books and next to no one will buy them. …

Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

What Miller fails to recognize is that the drive to read and the drive to write originate from different sources; writing is creative while reading is consumptive, and the two energies are not necessarily transferable. Some people, like Miller says, write but never read, and their work probably reflects that lack of broad experience. But conversely, there are probably far more people who read but never write, and most likely their reading experiences would be enhanced by a greater, more personal understanding of the writing process. As usual, the most beneficial mix seems to lie somewhere in the middle, wherein one both reads and writes.

The personal enrichment that can come from writing — and quilting and stamp collecting and marathon running and cello playing — transforms a world of consumers into a world of creators, where the simple act of trying is laudable in and of itself. It’s a world more open to new ideas and contributions from outside the establishment. I’ll take 21,683 crappy novels over one arrogant column any day.

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Dear ACG Blog readers,

Today is November 1, and this year I’ve pledged to complete NaNoWriMo. If you haven’t heard of it, NaNoWriMo — short for National Novel Writing Month, aka November — is a massive worldwide creative writing project sponsored and promoted by a non-profit organization, the Office of Letters and Lights. 2010 is the twelfth NaNoWriMo. In 2009 about 170,000 people wrote 2.4 billion words.

The goal is for each participant to write at least 50,000 words in the 30 days of November, averaging 1,667 words per day. That’s around 7 double-spaced pages in Microsoft Word. You can’t start earlier, and in order to “win” you must finish by 11:59 p.m. November 30. There is no real prize for winners other than the pride that comes with completing so Herculean a task. The 50,000 threshold isn’t necessarily the end of the novel — participants are free to go on writing, either before or after November 30. 50,000 words makes for a fairly short novel, but is well above the 40,000 limit for novellas; furthermore, “The Great Gatsby” and “Brave New World,” among others, are approximately 50,000 words long, proving a good novel can be that length.

Participants can write in any genre: science fiction, romance, historical, etc. I plan on writing literary fiction, but that, of course, can change. It’s also true that many most of the novels written for NaNoWriMo are bad. The quantity-over-quality approach at first seems antithetical to promoting creativity, but the organizers say it forces an abstract plan into real action, helps promote amateur novel-writing and in any event is “art for art’s sake.”

I’m telling you all this, readers, for two reasons. First, NaNoWriMo is a significant investment not only of time but also of creative energy. For that reason, you will almost certainly see a drop in output from this blog. I pledge to continue the daily Morning Briefing and of course will post new recipes every Sunday. The regular posts of this blog, however, will likely cut back a bit. I do plan to continue writing, but the posts will be briefer or farther apart than usual.

Second, putting this plan out there, on the internet, creates some accountability. I tried NaNoWriMo once, in high school, and for a number of reasons I stopped after about three days. I also took a creative writing seminar in college and found it to be one of the most challenging courses I ever took. Looking ahead for this month, there’s a significant portion near the end, a perfect storm of Thanksgiving and a wedding, that I anticipate may limit my writing time, and I am hoping to work ahead through the first few weeks to create a respectable word buffer in case I’m unable to write in those critical final days.

Therefore, I’m telling you about my plans and, at the end of the month, will tell you whether I succeeded or failed, and why. In the meantime, you can track my progress here on this blog, in widgets at the top of the right-hand navigation bar. The calendar, I believe, will be varying shades of green or red depending on how close I am to my daily 1,667-word goal. You can also check out my NaNoWriMo profile, which includes my most recent word count and information about myself and my novel (which as of this writing, 11:30 p.m. Sunday, is completely unplanned). If you too are participating in NaNoWriMo, let’s be writing buddies and help each other through this challenging but rewarding month.

Thank you for your understanding and support.

Alex Guillén
Editor
The ACG Blog

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It can be difficult to know when you, as a journalist, have finally made it. Maybe it’s when your first A1 article appears; maybe it’s when you make a Pulitzer shortlist; maybe it’s when you are called into the ombudsman’s office and don’t get yelled at.

But today, I really know that I made it, baby. How? After seeing the new Newsweek cover in the mail this afternoon I knew I just had to share it with the world (read below to see why). My tip led to a post on Gawker — with recognition. It’s so juicy I just have to post the whole thing.

In an attempt to construct a witty cover, Newsweek seems to claim that Obama isn’t president. Jonathan Alter‘s article explores and debunks the network of conspiracy theories surrounding the president. But the cover lines’ kind of affirm one myth. D’oh.

Newsweek‘s cover reads,

The Making of a Terrorist-Coddling, Warmongering, Wall Street-Loving, Socialistic, Godless Muslim President *

In small print below:

* who isn’t actually any of these things

As various bloggers note, this would suggest that Obama is no more president of America than he is a Muslim. Hey, maybe Newsweek finally found its lucrative 21st century niche: Conspiracy theorists! They’re a great audience—between their high tolerance for paradox and preoccupation with insignificant details, you only need to throw your conspiracy theorizing readers one tiny footnoted bone per issue, anyway. [PajamasMedia via chevronnline]

That’s me, chevronnline! Wait, what? I’m chevronnine, not chevronnline. Damn it. Still, I’ll not let this little cloud ruin my bright sunshine.

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“Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?”

So begins the 8,000-word novella on today’s New York Times magazine cover. Why indeed? This question is over rather paramount importance to me — a 22-year-old liberal arts college graduate, unemployed, living with my parents and looking for a job in a collapsing industry (finance — just kidding! I mean an actually collapsing industry: journalism). There’s already been a good deal of indignation in the blogosphere, likely penned in large part by such un-grown-up twentysomethings.

Twentysomething malaise. Courtesy of the New York Times.

The problem lies in a deviation from the “traditional” growing-up schedule: school, career, family, retire. Mmm… a lifetime of monumental decisions boiled down to a handy four-step guide. But now, “young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.”

(more…)

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Introduction

Welcome to the ACG Blog, sometimes referred to simply as the ACG. I’m your host and guide, Alex C. Guillen (hence the ACG Blog). I’m a recent college graduate, looking for employment, preferably in journalism and preferably in D.C.

The ACG will be about anything interesting. Vague, yes, but always fascinating. Possible topics include: current events, politics, literature, television, science, food, music, art, the media, academia and higher education, the internet, stupid people, smart people, politicians, talking heads, etc. If it’s interesting, I’m interested.

At the outset it’s just me, but I’m hoping to recruit some friends and colleagues to provide diversity of style, topics, ideas and (let’s face it) quality.

If you have an idea for a post or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact the ACG Blog at theacgblog@gmail.com.

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