Thursday, November 17, 2016

Novel Writers vs. Political Depression

Every November I write the first draft of a new novel as a participant in National Novel Writing Month. After this month’s election the novels in progress took on extra weight, as if completing them would be proof that our national culture is not dead yet. The quality of writing in my own novel seemed to suffer in the days immediately after the election, but I kept writing and the story kept taking shape, and that is the measure of success for a novel at the first draft stage. I haven’t heard of any participating novel writer going through the depression that affected so many people after the election. There were not even any political rants from novelists, or if there were, they somehow did not reach me. And it certainly is not that novel writers are Trump supporters. Just as Trump despises college graduates, which most novel writers are, Trump in known to despise everyone who works with words and ideas, having characterized such people on more than a dozen occasions as criminals and threats to the world. Given the political chasm between Trump and novel writers, I think there may be lessons to be learned from novelists’ relative immunity from the political winds. There is some spiritual protection in having a clear purpose, and even the arbitrary goal of completing a novel first draft in one calendar month may be purpose enough. There is also a degree of political protection in putting forth ideas in fictional form. This has been seen through the ages, but most famously when Galileo was not put to death for suggesting that Earth moved around the sun, in part because he made that suggestion in the form of dramatic dialog, a stage play without a stage. At times like this, there is an undeniable appeal in being able to slip away into another world where events are protected from the cultural crisis of the present. How bad can the world really be if my novel has a happy ending? Writing fiction requires the writer to take a broad view of what is possible, and in its way, that is more powerful than the narrow view of the possible that conventional politics seems to require.