If you’re reading this editorial, you’ve probably read a few of them — enough to realize that I’ve usually got something to pontificate about. I take pride in the quality of DargonZine’s editorials, so I always try to share unique insights about the Internet, writing, and how our writing project works.
But after more than 120 editorials, it has become a lot more difficult to come up with interesting new topics. Sometimes an issue will be delayed while I stare blankly into an empty text editor window, waiting for the ideas and the words to come.
That’s a feeling that many of our writers can sympathize with: the tyranny of the blank page. Over the past month, the primary topic of conversation on our writers’ email list and our monthly interactive chats has been writer’s block and how to overcome it.
Unlike my editorials, where the underlying problem is the need for a constant supply of new ideas, many Dargon writers find themselves inhibited by doubt over whether their story will be as good as they hope it will be. Through their natural desire to write a great story, they’ve allowed their internal critic to overpower the creative urge that led them to writing in the first place.
DargonZine can, of course, be a difficult place for the writer who isn’t secure in his or her craft. When an author’s story is posted to our internal writers’ list, each draft is critiqued in exacting detail by a dozen or more reviewers. Although we do our best to make our peer reviews as painless as possible, it can still feel very threatening. Our reviews force us out of our comfort zones, challenging each of us to overcome our complacency and forcing us to write our best work. But at the same time, that can intimidate writers and inhibit them from ever starting a story in the first place.
Of course, none of us want to discourage our contributors. DargonZine’s goal, after all, is to encourage amateur writers. One of the ways an author can get past this fear is to silence their internal critic. It’s great to have that voice inside your head during the editing phase of a work, but he has no business kibitzing while you’re writing your first draft! By separating the creative and the editorial functions, you are telling yourself that it’s okay to write garbage. You can relax, because you know that you’ll be polishing your story later, which frees the other half of your mind to run with the enthusiasm of the creative impulse.
Interestingly, there’s another Internet site that, like DargonZine, encourages amateur writers to grow and learn through collaboration and practicing the craft of writing. However, whereas we elect to emphasize the quality of our prose and struggle with the resulting fear of not measuring up, they focus exclusively on letting the muse run, irrespective of the quality of the result.
The site is “National Novel Writing Month”, and the basic premise is that you get thirty days — the month of November — to write a 50,000-word novella (that would fill three and a half DargonZine issues). That’s it. No restrictions, no expectations, no support, no anything — just go write it. The one thing they do encourage is for participants to get together and share the experience, but that falls far short of the kind of close (and often direct) collaboration that DargonZine encourages.
The differences between DargonZine and “NaNoWriMo”, as they call themselves, are many. NaNoWriMo’s goal is to help people who have never written a lengthy work, to show them that it’s possible. In that sense, NaNoWriMo is a temporary lifestyle change to show a novice writer what is possible, whereas DargonZine’s contributors view writing as an inherent, ongoing part of their life.
Another difference is that NaNoWriMo doesn’t support aspiring writers beyond their first rough draft; instead, they ride the crest of a writer’s enthusiasm and creative impulse. DargonZine, in contrast, tries to show writers how to balance the spontaneity of writing with careful planning and an eye toward the quality of the result. We also take writers through critiquing and editing, which are essential skills for any fiction writer. As one Dargon writer recently observed, “Quality is in revision”, and our extensive peer review process teaches that.
Of course, one of the benefits of NaNoWriMo is the autonomy you have; no one is going to limit what an author can write about. For some people, including a friend of mine who has participated in NaNoWriMo, that freedom is important, and precludes writing for DargonZine because of our requirement of setting stories within our common milieu.
In the end, our two projects appeal to different groups of people who have different needs. NaNoWriMo serves the would-be novelist who hasn’t made writing a large enough part of her life to enable her to realize that dream, and who can benefit from meeting others in the same situation and having a concrete deadline. DargonZine serves authors who are confident in their ability to get the words down, but who want to improve the quality of their work and can benefit from meeting others in their same situation.
In both cases, our goal is to give aspiring writers direction, confidence through practice, and a supportive community of peers. I’m sure that NaNoWriMo’s writers could learn a lot from us about quality and the revision process. At the same time, I think they could teach DargonZine’s writers about how to set aside our internal critics and just write. Perhaps something in their approach could help us nurture our creative enthusiasm and set down our stories without the inhibiting fear of them not being up to our expectations.
I’m pleased to say that over the past two a half months, we’ve been able to print a new issue every three weeks, bringing you four issues since the end of June, and one issue every month since March. That’s a dramatic improvement over our erratic performance last winter. On the other hand, we’ve printed so many stories that we’ve virtually tapped out our pipeline of new works. Our writers are hurrying to fill the void so that this winter won’t be as quiet as last year’s, when we only printed two issues over six months!
One of the writers whom you’ll see a lot of this autumn is perennial favorite Dafydd, who begins a new chapter in his lengthy Talisman series. Talisman Nine 1 is actually the 30th installment in this storyline that has been running for three and a half years. I think I’m allowed to tell you that there’s an end in sight, but I won’t divulge any more than that. For a little background on this series, peruse the interview I conducted with Dafydd in DargonZine 12-6.
Rounding out this issue is the conclusion of P. Atchley’s excellent “Malice” series. Writing an effective mystery and keeping all the threads together is a difficult chore, and I hope you will join me in congratulating the author on her work.
As always, thanks for your continued interest, and enjoy!