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October 21, 2011

A novel idea

If I told you that I had joined a book club, you would ask me what books I had read so far, or what I am reading now, or what I thought about this book or that one or the other. I would tell you that I haven’t read any books in my Book Club, for the book club is called Book Club, and that I don’t plan to read any books in Book Club either. You would look at me, with your lips slightly limp and open, until you could think of the next question to ask me. In my answer to that question, I would explain that the choice of the name Book Club was deliberate, and that the book club is called Book Club because we write books.

Book Club is the banner of literary desperation that the five of us—Adrien Duroc-Danner, Henry Ginna, Stefan Lyew, Alex Sellers, and I—have lifted high in a previously hidden burst of resolve. Each of us has tried to write a novel in the past and failed, every single time. So we looked for inspiration in the likes of Hemingway, and in every absinthe-swilling café denizen that had ever walked the streets of Paris. We decided to form a writer’s circle that would allow us to meet occasionally to discuss ideas, ask for advice, and keep each other up-to-date with our writing. The following guidelines are taken from the first e-mail that I sent out to the members of Book Club, on October 16, 2011, and they are the rules that the five of us are currently living by:

1. You will complete the first draft of a book/epic poem/other long literary work by the end of exactly one month (November 17, 2011) from the first meeting of the group. If you have started writing already, you are encouraged to use the material you already have. Completing a work, not beginning one from scratch, is the main focus.

2. Because you will be writing a LOT of material, you are encouraged to spend minimal time editing your own work. You can do that in the second-draft stage. If you have any questions about this, please read

http://www.orcutt.net/othercontent/sfds.pdf [“Shitty First Drafts’” by Anne Lamott] before asking them.

3. The group members will meet two times every seven days to share what they’ve worked on and get feedback, probably immediately after classes and probably at the pub or at a café.

4. If you do not complete your first draft within the allotted time (yes, you might have to stay up all night as if it were a school project due the next day; if that happens, so be it), all of your clothes except for one outfit will be taken away until the draft is finished. In addition, ALL of your shoes will be taken away. It will be difficult and embarrassing to leave your room. You cannot borrow clothes or shoes from friends (or enemies). You are probably already thinking about how ridiculous this is. I’m already thinking that you are right, and that the consequences are so ridiculous that they’ll provide really good motivation.

We have, effectively, ripped off NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, which takes place between November 1 and November 30. It only seemed logical to break away from the pack; we’re all living outside the nation, some of us want to write non-novel literary works, and November is a whole week away. We also feel that we have reclaimed the concept of a book club. Books are at least as much about production as they are consumption.

Our finished projects will be astoundingly different from one another. We anticipate a dystopian novella about the future of cigarettes, a novel exploring a professor-student relationship, an epic poem styled after the classics, another novel about telephone numbers, and a self-help book for people who play RPGs. We have converged twice so far as a group, once to draft a final set of guidelines, and again to ask each other for advice on preliminary outlines. Some of us struggle when pruning unruly sentences, while others write with apparent disregard for quality, intent on getting their ideas on paper before the fires of creativity burn out. I believe that we will all learn something from one another through the process of writing together.

If you have an idea for a project of your own, but suffer from a similar lack of motivation, take some kind of small step to get other people involved—it can’t hurt. Spread the word that you want to start something, even if that just means casually mentioning it to your friends. Someone will be interested. Then show a little initiative and follow up with the people who are interested. There is nothing sadder than silence and wasted potential, except maybe having to wear nothing but socks around Paris because you didn’t finish writing by November 17, 2011.

Chris Stavitsky is a third-year in the College studying abroad in Paris.

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