Thoughts From a Four Time NaNoWriMo Failure

For many college students, I think, November is a particularly wretched month: walks across campus in cold drizzle, flus and watery eyes, cumulative exams and weighty group projects, and, if you’re like me, you’ve probably used up all of your excused absences and have created a situation in which you need to ace all of your last assignments and exams in order to maintain a quasi-reasonable GPA. On top of this, too, you might be working twenty hours a week at Chick-Fil-A, or organizing fundraisers for the Horticulture Club, or trying to get more than five hours of sleep per night. You know what you should do this month, though? Write 1,667 words per day with the end goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in four weeks.

Wait, what?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a baffling cultural phenomenon which sees a huge number of participants dump confused, hectic narratives into Google docs against a 50,000-word goal and a November 30th deadline. If both of these are met, the participant will have “won” NaNoWriMo, and can enter December as an Author of a Novel. All easier said than done, and, even when done, what’s the real payoff? The feeling of being able to introduce oneself as a writer at holiday mixers, the evidence of this claim being a 50,000-word document collecting virtual dust in some intangible Cloud? Hardly any NaNoWriMo manuscripts (read: unedited garbage narratives) become anything more than just… justification.

Alright, call me bitter. I won’t argue with you. You’ve seen the title of this blog post.

But isn’t there a better way for aspiring writers to hone their craft? If annually one dips her toe into writerly waters, churns out her 50,000 words, and doesn’t write another sentence until the following November, what lasting progress has she made as a writer? If, perhaps, a college student finds the pressures of NaNoWriMo overwhelming, potentially associates the act of creative writing with stress, obligation, exhaustion, frustration—what good does all that do? I’ve only ever attempted NaNoWriMo as a student, every November from my junior year of high school to my sophomore year of college; and I’ve only ever abandoned my writing maybe two weeks and 10,000 words in, always feeling like a failure.

That’s where the troubling language of the whole production factors in—if those participants who’ve reached 50,000 words by November 30th are “winners” of NaNoWriMo, doesn’t that make the rest of us losers? If they’re all Real Writers, now, with their Real Novels—well, maybe I’m being overdramatic, but each of the four times I’ve thrown in the NaNoWriMo towel has been a blow to my confidence. In my nascent yen to claim writing as a factor in my identity, I interpreted NaNoWriMo as a kind of quick scheme toward being able to feel like a writer, even though I hardly ever put the proverbial pencil to the proverbial paper the rest of the year ‘round.

Listen: a novel in a month, even a short novel, is an unrealistic goal for anyone, especially college students. 1,667 words/day for thirty days does not a writer make. Two hundred words every few days for thirty weeks, though? I feel like that’s the kind of lasting progress that a lot of so-inclined students could manage.

One day, a few months ago, I felt like writing and I wrote some. Then I didn’t for a few days, and then I did again. I didn’t feel like writing yesterday, and I’m writing today. And I feel more like a writer now than I did as I suffered and seized over an arbitrary word count and an arbitrary deadline. However, I don’t feel like I’ve “won” writing, and, honestly, I hope that I never feel that way. Let’s all just keep practicing forever, and if we write some dope shit while we’re at it, that’s awesome. But let’s all just be writers at our own pace, yeah? Where it fits in our class schedules, when we’re not sapped from on-demand essays, when we want. Let’s just… write, without worrying about any rules. Let’s just do it, and keep doing it. Let’s do it consistently, and comfortably, and with care—and let’s never be done. (Let’s still call ourselves writers at those holiday mixers, too. Screw it.)

Author: Martha Spall, Red Cedar Review Assistant Managing Editor


Michigan State Lecture Series: Ta-Nehisi Coates

By Katherine Stark

On April 3, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke at Michigan State. Coates is a renowned journalist, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, and an author. He’s written two books, Between the World and Me, and The Beautiful Struggle, and most recently, he’s been writing comics for the Marvel superhero Black Panther. His writing most often centers on the theme of race in America, specifically issues faced by the African American population.

I was introduced to Coates in a class I took last semester through RCAH, where his award-winning essay written for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations” was an early assigned reading. The article argues that the United States needs to engage in conversation about reparations to make up for the centuries of injustices committed against black people in America. I followed up by reading another class recommendation, Between the World and Me.  This book, written as a letter to his son as he grapples with his place as a young black man in the U.S., was probably the best book I read in the last year—I started marking spots I loved, and by the end my copy was overflowing with little pink tabs.

His writing combines thorough research about the history of race in the U.S. with human interest expertly—he often talks about personal experiences of himself and other individuals who have suffered because of institutional racism in America. His lecture, part of MSU’s World View Lecture Series, was as informational and moving as his written works. Hearing from such a prominent figure in the discussion of race in the U.S. was so important to me. Because the national climate is so contentious right now, his perspective is needed more than ever.


Why an Out-of-State Big City Internship is a Great Experience

By Jessica Summer Olson

Last summer I lived in London for a study abroad program and it changed everything for me. The opportunity to study, learn, and live in another country and culture taught me how to be a strong leader, work with others very closely, and accomplish goals I never knew I could conquer.  I was given an entirely new perspective on my academic and personal career, as well as developing new skills, teamwork, effective communication, time management and critical thinking.  So, when looking for an internship, I wanted to spread my wings again. Sure, I could get an internship anywhere in my local area, but after London, I wanted to expand my world even more. That is when I was introduced to an internship in New York City.

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Red Cedar Review’s Archive

By Alex Valenti

This semester, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time researching the Red Cedar Review’s past volumes with fellow journal staff member Carrie Dudewicz. The journal has over fifty years worth of volumes, so as we slowly wade through them all.

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Editor’s Note

Dear Readers,

I am so pleased to present the fifty-second volume of Red Cedar Review. This year has been both challenging and very successful in establishing our undergraduate-run literary magazine, and I believe the end result is indicative of the growth we have experienced.

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Strangers on a Train: Book vs. Movie

By Sal Antonucci

We are usually quick to favor the book over the movie, but in some instances, the movie is just better. While Patricia Highsmith’s novel Strangers On a Train and Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation are radically different in terms of plot and character development, one is still tempted to compare the two as they go about exploring similar themes in radically different ways.

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That Dystopian Fiction You Avoided in High School? Read It Now.

By Carlisle Shelson

In case you missed it, Donald Trump is now our president. Don’t hold your breath—the United States has entered into a new status quo. The Trump administration has already started to veer toward illiberal policymaking, pushing for total censorship of our scientific agencies, a ban on all refugees and immigrants from Middle Eastern countries in which the president does not have business interests, and a push to dismantle all progressive institutions that have been established in the twentieth century. Worst of all, Trump and his administration have ushered in a new age of “alternative facts,” where the White House is the emblem of truth and the “mainstream media” are lying to the people to advance an agenda.

Continue reading “That Dystopian Fiction You Avoided in High School? Read It Now.”

Why Everyone Should Read a Jane Austen Novel

By Grace Beltowski

Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with young adult fiction—The Hunger Games, Throne of Glass, and The Lunar Chronicles are among my favorites. I like these books because they’re imaginative, entertaining, and helplessly easy to binge-read. Sure, they all seem to follow a standard plotline, but there’s something about them that is just so addicting. Perhaps it’s all of the dystopian societies, steamy romances, or badass heroines.

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6 Reasons Why Working in the Publishing Field is Awesome

By Alexandria Drzazgowski

1. Living in New York City

Most (almost all) publishing jobs in the United States are located in New York City, specifically in Manhattan. Because of this, in order to get a publishing internship, I had to move to the city! I never considered myself a city person, so I was really nervous about making the move (especially by myself), but it ended up being the best thing I have ever done with my life—no exaggeration. New York City was incredible. I ate way more food than anyone ever should, met incredible people, and often walked thirteen miles a day on the weekends because there was so much to explore. This blog post would go on forever if I started talking about all of the great things about New York City, so just know that it was amazing.

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