The novelists of November

It’s Nov. 2, and I haven’t started writing a novel yet. During four previous Novembers I’ve been bent over my keyboard by now, trying to get off to a good start for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal? A completed 50,000 word novel by the 30th.

What then? It depends. My NaNoWriMo novels are sitting in computer files, unlikely to ever make it to a bookshelf. What’s the point, naysayers ask?  As Carolyn Kellogg wrote in the LA Times Jacket Copy blog last year, there are worse ways to spend free time than writing a novel.

Completing a large writing project in a month is an exercise in discipline. It helps form an important habit, one Jane Yolen says is the secret to her productivity: “Butt In Chair.” NaNoWriMo is also good for creativity; there isn’t time to succumb to your inner editor.  And there’s a sense of camaraderie as thousands of people around the world work towards the same deadline.

These days, writing fiction could take your mind off famine, recession, war, and politics. Or in the Northeast, power outages and October snow. As I heard Professor Ralph Williams say at a post-film discussion in Concord two weekends ago, beauty (or in the case of NaNoWriMo, attempts at beauty) can help us deal with evil.

Need more motivation? Some November novelists take their manuscripts to the next level.  Writing for Chapter & Verse, a blog at the Christian Science Monitor, Husna Haq points out that two recent best-sellers, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, began as NaNoWriMo drafts.

Intrigued? You have most of November left to join NaNoWriMo. If you have no idea where to begin, check out Galley Cat’s excellent daily tips for NaNoWriMo. Today’s tip is one I endorse: visit the reference desk.

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Philosophy is everywhere

Last weekend I attended two cultural events that were both fun and thought provoking. On Friday, The Currier Museum of Art and Rivier College presented a discussion with curator Kurt Sundstrom and painter James Aponovich.  On Saturday, Red River Theatres screened Answer This!with post-film Q&A with director Christopher Farah and a mini-lecture on some themes in Shakespeare’s sonnets by legendary University of Michigan Professor Ralph Williams, who acts in the film as well.

Both events got me thinking about some of the questions philosophy helps us deal with. The conversation about works of art made me wonder: What is beauty? What is the purpose of art? How does it inform our humanity? Can art make our lives more meaningful? Can it change the way we live? What happens at the intersection of art and commerce?

Answer This! provoked more questions, such as: What are more important in life, “small” things, or “big” things? What’s the difference? Is engaging with great books (in this film it’s the Bible) an act of creation? Does what we do define us? How can we know what to do with our lives?  If you think about the most recent film or exhibit you’ve seen, music you’ve listened to, or book you’ve read, you can probably think of similar questions. Philosophy is everywhere.

If you enjoy wrestling with ideas but think philosophy is intimidating or scholarly, try the popular culture philosophy guides from Open Court and Blackwell.  Why do philosophers engage with pop culture? Blackwell editor William Irwin’s “Fancy a Pop?” addresses this question; he points out that popular philosophy, like popular science, introduces the discipline to a wider audience “by showing people how philosophy is relevant.” A great example: Paul Pardi has written an interesting piece on philosophy and the Kevin Spacey film Margin Call, which opened nationwide last weekend.

Want to engage with others who are interested in examining our world through philosophy? Check out the Society for Philosophical Inquiry for information on Socrates Cafe, or tune in via radio or online to NHPR’s Socrates Exchange.