In the Future, You Will Team-Write Your Novel in 75 Minutes

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Judging by what she tells the press, Great American Novelist Nell Zink writes her drafts in a matter of weeks. But that’s only a minor improvement on the thousands of aspiring writers who unite each year under the aegis of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in order to produce a completed draft of a 50,000-word roman in the span of a calendar month. Drunk on a brew of productive fantasy and participatory euphoria — or maybe not — these writers, young and old, eschew the contemplative, laborious process of novel production in favor of the quick fix — at least for the month of November.

Now, it seems, even a month is too long and arduous. This week a young collective of writers, an unofficial offshoot of NaNoWriMo, aims to collaboratively produce a novel in just 75 minutes.

The project, titled “NaNoSessionMo,” will meet at Nine Worlds Geekfest — specifically, on August 8th at 1:30 PM in room Royal A at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel — where participants will band together, as ringleader Chris Farnell explains it, to put words “in sequential order to make a novel…[t]hat we’re then going to publish.”

Farnell and co. came up with the idea at last year’s Nine Worlds Geekfest, a self-described “multi-genre residential pop culture convention” that brings together like-minded attendees who are “not ashamed of the word geek.” The plan’s workability inspired Farnell to inaugurate the writing session this year.

According to the Guardian , the participants (there are about 50) will “spend about 45 minutes collaboratively hammering out a plot, characters and structure.” The following 30 minutes will be devoted to the production of one chapter per individual. The hope is that a readable novel will result, or at least a work of fiction that is “coherent, legible and [in] English.” There is no word yet on the novel’s intended style or genre, but given the authors’ unabashed geekery, it’s safe to say that it will be either science fiction or fantasy or a blend of the two.

What to make of the ever tinier chunks of time authors are willing to expend for the sake of fiction? Is NaNoSessionMo a vanity project born out of unfathomable laziness and indifference toward the value of artistic labor? Is it a writerly version of the Millennial Commune? Or is the “session” nothing more than the daydream afternoon of a cluster of geeks engaged a complicated, literary act of role playing? It’s hard to say.

One one hand, NaNoSessionMo recapitulates — in an innocent way — broader trends in publishing that rely on a new division of labor. Take, for example, Big Publishing’s recent love affair with the ghostwritten celebrity novel, which uses the bankable persona of a celebrity author — Zoella or the Jenner sisters — to sell ghostwritten fiction to a mass audience. It works, by the way. Zoella’s Girl, Online is the fastest selling debut novel of all time.

In other words, it doesn’t matter whether you split literary authorship into two or 50 parts — the idea is still the same. It’s still the expression of a willingness to trash conventional literary authorship in favor of reduced production time. And even if this group of writers sees the project merely as a side hustle, it’s still an extension of genre logic and fan fiction, both of which count on tropes and worlds as readymades — at least at their base. What else could allow for such a Fordist approach to the production of fiction?

In the long run, these modes of literary production risk transforming literature into what it shouldn’t be: alienated labor. How else to define the work of an assembly line “author” whose labor (writing a chapter) shares little relation to the final product (a novel)? It’s easy to imagine a future of the novel worthy of Damien Hirst’s studio, where the “literary author” conceptualizes a novel and then sets his grunts to work on each component of the thing.

But the point about Hirst brings me to another: the art world has been grappling with these ideas for decades — and especially in recent years. Within its major institutions, in its serious magazines and journals, and on its periphery, art-world discourse has challenged (or at least acknowledged) prevailing modes of artistic production. I point this out because the literary world, during the same years, has engaged in almost none of the same.

The point is that projects like NaNoSessionMo, even if they are lightly annoying, open up new ways of thinking about literary production, or at least they could lead to new lines of questioning about the way novels are made. Much in the same way, as Tobias Carroll points out at Hazlitt, an influx of two-author literary novels, like The New World by Eli Horowitz and Chris Adrian, is redistributing the boundaries of novel writing and form — and thereby revealing the relationship between how a novel is produced and the way it reads. Both cases show that far from dying or being dead, the literary author, in order to survive, must sometimes divide.