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12 reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo

  Writersblock_drewcoffman

If you want to write a novel in 30 days, don't let anyone stop you. Not even Salon's Laura Miller.

Miller, who I usually find thoughtful and sweet, has written an anti-NaNoWriMo column -- "Better yet, DON'T write that novel" -- that is at best wrongheaded, and at worst, smallhearted. Miller would lay the blame for too many writers -- and not enough readers -- at the foot of NaNoWriMo, the project that challenges would-be authors to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.

The too-many-writers trope is echoed by people who publish literary journals, who see more submissions than subscriptions, and those in the publishing industry who'd simply like to sell more books. Even if it is true -- which I'm not convinced it is -- there are certainly other factors, including the hundreds of MFA programs in creative writing, that swell the ranks of hopeful writers.

And is a large pool of hopeful writers really a terrible thing? Are there not thousands more marathon runners than medalists, more home chefs than pros who might ever run a restaurant kitchen? What's wrong with an enthusiastic amateur class of writers? Who says they're not readers, anyway? I've yet to see anything more substantial than a dinner party anecdote.

Here's a quick rundown of Miller's argument, and where it goes wrong.

1. Miller writes: " 'Make no mistake,' the organization's website counsels. 'You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.' I am not the first person to point out that 'writing a lot of crap' doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November."

In fact, spending a month "writing a lot of crap" is more fruitful than many things, including much of the fun, casual cultural consumption we regularly engage in. It's more fruitful than watching TV, playing video games, spending hours on Facebook or Twitter. It might not be more fruitful than innoculating children in an underdeveloped village, but we're not talking about people quitting the Peace Corps in order to do NaNoWriMo. The only thing "writing a lot of crap" can genuinely be said to be less fruitful than is writing well. 

Miller quotes it, but misses the essential point: for a hopeful writer to "just create." It's the act of doing that's important. Knitters don't knit because their friends need more hats. But so far, there hasn't been a "Better yet, DON'T knit that scarf" manifesto.

2. Miller writes: "And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive."

Clearly, NaNoWritMo encourages revision; why blame them for those that don't do it? Also, the publishing business has a way of dealing with unwanted manuscripts: It's called the slush pile. There's nothing easier than rejecting a clearly bad book.

Also: Can I take this moment to protest the use of "rumblings in the Twitterverse" as a news source? Not that I'm immune. But.

3. Miller writes: "Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it?"

Goodness! Who is insisting? I get dozens of e-mails every day from publicists for books I'll never have a chance to glance at, let alone crack open or read. While I find the barrage annoying, I certainly don't think anyone is insisting I read anything. They're asking. And quite often their pleas go unheard.

4. Miller writes: "The last thing the world needs is more bad books."

The last thing the world needs? We have war and disease and greed and hunger. Books, even bad books, are hardly our biggest problem.

5. Miller writes: "NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it's largely unnecessary."

If it's unnecessary, NaNoWriMo would not have grown from 21 participants in 1999 to 167,150 last year. It's necessary for them. And of those who tried last year, 130,000 didn't finish -- there is clearly a gap between the hopeful and successful NaNoWriMo writer. In other words, a need.

If all those 167,150 people who participated in NaNoWriMo in 2009 were professional writers -- which seems unlikely -- and they used the month to jump-start or buckle down, so what? Writers use all kinds of tools and tricks to write. Would Miller force writers not to upgrade to Scrivener 2.0, or get Jonathan Franzen's Internet-less computer re-connected? Those things also are unnecessary -- but writers benefited from them.

6. Miller writes, "I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. 'Write Your Novel Here' was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing."

This is the most saddening part of the piece. I can think of nothing more miserable than seeing the words "the narcississtic commerce of writing" stuck together as if they make sense. If writing is narcississtic, I for one am glad that Thomas Pynchon and Charles Dickens and Joan Didion can be called narcissists. But if writing is a commerce, tell that to Edgar Allan Poe, who died poor and sick at age 40, and the thousands of others who write without adequate compensation.

7. Miller writes: "I say 'commerce' because far more money can be made out of people who want to write novels than out of people who want to read them."

True. It's called an MFA in creative writing. I'll be paying off my loans for a long time.

Oh wait, she means NaNoWriMo (which is free) and less formal offerings for hopeful writers, like self-help books. Fact is, there are self-help books about everything, from pregnancy guides to finding God. If people want to pay for books to help them be better writers as they pay for books to help them be better parents and cooks and human beings, well heck, those are books, aren't they? Isn't this good for publishing as a whole?

8. Miller writes: "There are already more than enough novels out there -- more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it's our job to do so."

Well let's just call it quits on culture then, if there's enough. Also, people. There are more than enough people on the planet. Everyone, please stop making them.

9. Miller writes: "I know that there are still undiscovered or unpublished authors out there whose work I will love if I ever manage to find it. But I'm confident those novels would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth."

Maybe. But also, maybe not. There's nothing to say that Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants," probably the best book to come from NaNoWriMo, will be the only one of merit. Not to mention that the book's success has been good for publisher Algonquin; NaNoWriMo may feed the literary ecosystem in unexpected ways.

10. Miller writes: "I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on."

Well, all right then, but there's no need to kick them in the teeth.

And I will cheer them on: NaNoWriMo is hard, but you can do it. Keep writing. Don't look back. You can edit later. Write write write!

11. Miller writes: "Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers?"

Where on earth does Miller get the idea that the writers participating in NaNoWriMo don't read books? She cites one dinner party anecdote, one Atlantic article referencing an unnamed independent publisher.

At NaNoWriMo, I checked out the Fictional Character Crushes II forum. Among those setting the writers' hearts a-beating: Sherlock Holmes, both Jay Gatsby and Nick from "The Great Gatsby," Mr. Darcy, Aragorn from "Lord of the Rings," Anne from "Anne of Green Gables," the Cat from the Neil Gaiman short story "The Price," Algernon Moncrieff from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," Alcide from the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Edmond Dantès from "The Count of Monte Cristo" and Archie Goodwin from the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. There are also plenty of crushes on TV and film and anime characters, which just goes to show that these hopeful writers are readers as well as watchers. They are contemporary cultural consumers, and in NaNoWriMo, they're trying to create something. 

There is no logical basis to portraying the NaNoWriMo hopefuls as nonreaders. None at all.

12. Miller writes: "Why not celebrate them [readers] more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built."

Literary culture isn't a temple, it's an ecosystem. Writers can be readers, readers can be critics, critics can be writers, audiences can have a voice.

Later this month, the National Book Awards will be celebrating accomplished writers and the books they published through traditional mainstream publishers. Does anyone assume the National Book Award finalists aren't reading other books? Of course not.

Why not celebrate those jumping in to NaNoWriMo for their efforts? They're teenagers getting more deeply invested in literature and retirees with time on their hands. They're husbands and wives shirking duties at home, parents getting out of carpool dutues, fortysomethings finally making the time. They're all trying to create something with words. They are, quite simply, people who like books enough to try to write one.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Writer's Block I. Credit: Drew Coffman via Flickr.

 
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THANK YOU!

As an eager first time NaNoWriMo participant this year, I have been shocked by the anti-NaNo backlash out there.

What the heck is that all about?

Why are so many people so eager to crush other people's enthusiasm about something so obviously harmless and potentially wonderful as writing a book in a month?

Writing a novel is hard work. How terrific is it that we can now undertake that effort as part of a supportive community?

It's kind of ironic that Miller, a WRITER, would spend her time and energy beating down that particular dream.

If you don't want to write a novel this month, go do something else. Leave us alternatively giddy and frustrated writers to go about our work.

I was linked to this blog by the Writer's Digest Twitter feed, and I just wanted to thank you for writing it, from the bottom of my heart. I've participated in NaNoWriMo all throughout college, and it's been very depressing to see how many bloggers seem out to discredit the activity this year. They seem to assume that, because THEY don't need it and THEY don't get anything out of it, it must obviously be a waste of time, because why should they encourage anyone who doesn't write exactly the way THEY do?

Long story very short: I love this blog entry, I'm bookmarking it and I'll keep it in mind for the rest of the month, especially every time I come across some snarky anti-nanoite. Again, thank you so much for writing it! It's awesome!

*applause*

Great post Carolyn. I don't have the time to participate in NaNoWriMo this time around, but I sure as hell am more motivated now than I've ever been. Cheers!

Monique

Thank you for this. Thank you for this very much. I received this link through the NaNoWriMo journal community on LJ. We all appreciate anyone who is willing to say we're not just scribbling sadistic self-indulgent monkeys who should be doing something better with our time.

Wow. The reasoning here is so illogical and defensive it should have been titled "12 Reasons to Ignore Jacket Copy."

1. The only thing "writing a lot of crap" can genuinely be said to be less fruitful than is writing well.

How about reading a lot of good books instead? How about spending time with friends and family? How about exercising more? How about just NOT writing a lot of crap?

2. There's nothing easier than rejecting a clearly bad book.

Yes there is: never having to read it in the first place because the clearly bad writer wasn't encouraged to participate in NaNoWriMo.

3. Miller mentions hack writers insisting people read books, and you respond absurdly with a comment about publicists.

:-|

4. Miller writes: "The last thing the world needs is more bad books." Citing war and other awful things, you reply, "Books, even bad books, are hardly our biggest problem," absurdly taking the phrase FAR too literally.

To clarify: "The world does not need more bad books." Better? I guess we're not allowed to complain about NaNoWriMo until we have world peace and the end of all suffering. Please.

5. If it's unnecessary, NaNoWriMo would not have grown from 21 participants in 1999 to 167,150 last year. It's necessary for them.

This is like arguing that meth or McDonald's are "necessary" because so many people keep polluting their bodies with them. I guess cigarettes are necessary too!

6. If writing is narcissistic, I for one am glad that Thomas Pynchon and Charles Dickens and Joan Didion can be called narcissists.

Even granting that all good writers are narcissists, that doesn't mean all narcissists are good writers. Miller was rightly condemning the commercialization of narcissism, and you reacted emotionally ("saddening"), completely missing the point.

7. If people want to pay for books to help them be better writers as they pay for books to help them be better parents and cooks and human beings, well heck, those are books, aren't they? Isn't this good for publishing as a whole?

Is eating your own flesh good for your body as a whole? Sure, autocannibalism may keep you alive in the short run, but those long term consequences are a real kicker!

8. Well let's just call it quits on culture then, if there's enough. Also, people. There are more than enough people on the planet. Everyone, please stop making them.

How old are you? Five? This is tantrum-level logic. Any adult can see the difference between telling people to completely stop doing something and not encouraging them to do too much of it.

9. You cite Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" as a positive result of NaNoWriMo, glossing over the basic cost-benefit analysis step of addressing the negatives.

Also: who's to say Gruen wouldn't have written some version of WFE even without NaNoWriMo? Or, that some other, non-NaNoWriMo book wouldn't have taken its place at Algonquin?

10. "There's no need to kick them in the teeth."

Were I Carolyn Kellogg, I might take this literally and ask who is actually assaulting someone's dentition with a foot strike. But, since I'm not an idiot...

11. There is no logical basis to portraying the NaNoWriMo hopefuls as nonreaders. None at all.

Except for the surveys that reveal that 80 percent of Americans think they "have a book in them" while fewer than half have actually read a book in the past year.

And a list of a few dozen crushes from a forum proves what exactly? That those people read a book once? Having read enough books in one's entire life to find a character you like is where you're setting the bar between readers and nonreaders? (Yet another case of absurd literalism.)

12. Literary culture isn't a temple, it's an ecosystem. Writers can be readers, readers can be critics, critics can be writers, audiences can have a voice.

Yes, and predators can be omnivores, but you can't have more predation than prey in a sustainable ecosystem. Literary culture requires more readers than writers. That's the ecology of it. Miller is right. You're wrong, and helping NaNoWriMo undermine the literary ecology.

Miller is just worried about a little competition. In more ways than one. The market is flush with hopeful writers and I'm sure it feels a bit crowded to those who are trying to hang on to their paid writing positions.

Ms. Miller's constant refrain is that we must celebrate the reader above all else. Writers are selfish! They contribute nothing to our literary society!

... exactly where does she think the materials that are being read comes from?

Thanks for cheering on writers. As a working mother of 4 with only one book published by a small independent house, and a few dozen partially completed manuscripts, I sometimes go far, far too long between working on the stories I want to finish. It's not that I don't get obsessed with writing once I start (I do) or that I don't adore reading (it's an addiction), but that when pitted against the kids' activities, my day job, reading someone else's writing, the housework, and the rest of life, writing tends to be the loser. When I noticed that it was NaNoWriMo it was an inspiration to get back to that sequel I've been "working" on for a few years now, and that I haven't written anything further on in 9 months or more.

Nice job! I'm not an official participant in NaNoWriMo, only because I've been writing a novel for the last nine months, but I'm there in spirit! Yippee for readers and for writers both.

Woop!
And @LifesizeLD, that's exactly what I picked up on. What's she doing in that article? That's right, writing.
Guess that means she can't be classed as a reader then... sucks to be her.

Thank you for this. Some of us do NaNo as a FUN challenge. A lot of us anticipate getting to READ the results, bad or not, revised or not, when they wind up posted as blog or web entries, because a lot of us aren't in this to flood the market, or make publishers pull their hair out.

Yay you! Miller sounds like an insecure whiner who can't stand the idea that she may have competition from one of these NaNo novelists, most of whose books in all likelihood will never see print. I've seen this kind of screed before (although not directed at NaNoWriMo) from others who didn't like the idea of competition.

I'm sorry to hear so many people submit their books without editing.

Personally, I'm using it as a way to force myself into the habit of writing every single day. It's much too easy to boot up the Xbox or Steam and get distracted.

Great post Carolyn, thank you. I'm not even going to read the original blog as I think I get the gist of it. It's my first time on Nanowrimo and I'm really enjoying the challenge. I've always wanted to write a novel and being given permission to write crap (which it may or may not end up being) is incredibly liberating, and doing it with a few hundred thousand others helps me feel less isolated in my attempt. I'm not expecting to run out and have my Nano Novel published on Dec 1, but I'm already finding out interesting things about my writing, my characters and myself. I'm a script writer so this is a really interesting exercise for me. Thanks Nanowrimo, and thanks again Carolyn for defending an awesome activity on our behalf.

Thank you so much for writing this.
It's only the third day in, and I've already asked myself (a few times) why I'm bothering to focus so much on writing something that I don't think anyone will ever read. And why is school starting to feel like my second priority? I'm 17; I know I'm not going to be the next huge teenage author. I'm not writing it with the plan to have it published. I don't even think I'll share it with anyone. I'm just doing it because I want to know that I can.
I love books, and I love writing. NaNoWriMo is amazing, and the haters just don't get it.

-gets back to writing-

No matter how long it takes a writer to crank out a first draft, it's going to need work. Probably a lot of work.

Why would anyone think that writing a first draft slowly is the only way to produce brilliance?

Hurrah for a wonderful article! I have friends who turn their noses up at Nano and refuse to write a single word until their "idea" has been approved by someone who might pay them money for it. Can I point out that these people never used to read books until they decided to become rich and famous by writing one? They do not understand why we write -- why we HAVE to write-- so I don't bother discussing Nano with them. But I may insist that they read your points, every single one of them! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Well, I can relate to both sides of the story to be honest. Obviously not to the venomous degree Laura Miller has reached in her article as a long-time Nano participant and supporter, but I can still understand why someone may think it is a waste of time to write 50,000 words of bad writing. I can't tell you how many forum posts I've seen post-Nano where people admit they never revise their manuscripts or never finish revising for whatever reason - usually because it is so terrible that they would have to rewrite it in its entirety to get something usable.

So, not saying Nano is a bad thing... in fact, I think the challenge's web site and forums are a great support and motivational tool for writers everywhere. I'm just saying, think twice before you write an extraordinary amount of crappy writing every day for the cause. Consider what your personality type is: after November is over, will you be able to successfully edit and revise this novel into something worthy of being published? Will you have the patience to do that? Or will it end up in the recycle bin permanently?

I know what my type is - the "in the recycle bin" type. I personally look at something terrible I've written and become very discouraged and it's difficult for me to edit it just because the bulk of its crappiness is overwhelming. Others definitely are different, and will be able to push themselves through the revision process. But I'm just saying, know yourself. If you feel you need to go back and edit a little during the NaNoWriMo challenge, then do it. It's what I'm doing this year (keeping up with the 1,667 minimum word count, at that) after a string of NaNo novel failures, and so far I am much happier with what I've written than any other year.

"It's kind of ironic that Miller, a WRITER, would spend her time and energy beating down that particular dream."

She's just worried someone better than her will figure out they're better than her because of Nanowrimo.

The whole article was a load of rubbish, and I'm glad there's someone setting a foot down and making sure others don't take her hogwash seriously. Keep writing, Wrimos! Crossing that finish line is one of the most amazing experiences you'll find in life.

I think her article clearly proves one point: she is, in fact, a narcissist.

I'm sorry we're muddying up your grandeur, Ms. Miller. You're absolutely right, we should be groveling at your feet and the feet of other already successful writers, opening our hungry mouths to be fed the crumbs of your literary genius and as you slaughter dreams and turn them into mortar for your pedestal.

I adore books. My father joked that I would have to read War and Peace at age 10 just so he wouldn't have to run to the library every day (sorry, Dad, Anna Karenina overtook War and Peace in my heart). Next to my children and my husband, they are my prize possession.

However, having a baby at 19 put my English degree on hold. I gave up the possibility of ever writing more than a few sonnets to post on my Facebook (which, I might add, is limited to my friends, most of whom have been hypnotized by culture to turn into zombies whenever the word "poetry" is uttered).

This is my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, and it's like I stumbled onto passion again, tripping over it in the corner it's been hiding for the past seven years.

In short, Ms. Miller: up yours.

I'm a little out-of-touch with naysayers of nano (I shut down when I nano; the only reason I saw this was because I decided to tweet about my novel while I was writing it, this year), but after reading this article I am frankly shocked that people--writers--would even say something like this. Does Ms Miller (or should I say Skeeter?) even remember what it was like to be a new writer? The way she talks, she's always been some sort of elite writer god who's never gotten a rejection letter or needed some encouragement.

"who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not"?! "the selfless art of reading"?? "the narcissistic commerce of writing"?? What the F*** is this noise? I have NEVER met a writer that didn't read or need encouragement, and there are precious few writers who have even a healthy level of self-esteem about their work! Even eloquent, talented people like Stephen Fry are afraid of what people think of their writing!

What WORLD does this woman live in, and could she please go back to it and leave us the heck alone, please? We get people telling us we're losers all the time--we don't need one of our own doing it!

I read both articles and I definitely think that Ms. Miller is entirely missing the point of things. As one of the would-be-writers I find that NaNoWriMo is a great motivational tool and I totally agree with Ms. Kellogg's response.

While it is true that not enough people read anymore, there are plenty of us who do. One of the only reasons I have the time to do NaNo this year is due to the fact that I don't have enough extra money to buy new books at the moment.

I wonder what's put the bee under Miller's bonnet in the first place?

I'm a NaNoWriMo participant and I have to say that she goes on and on about readers. Alright writers, let's all drop our pens/pencils/quills and stop writing. When the books run out, what will these readers have to read then?

Another thing, to the new comers to NaNo or those coming back to write some more, keep on writing and good luck!!!

As someone who both reads AND writes, I do admit that I found her article mean-spirited. While I understand that it would certainly be annoying to deal with doe-eyed writers who send their Draft 0 to an agent on December 1st, and while I understand that there are people out there who claim writing to be "easy," I applaud them for being creative. We all need to use our brains more creatively and sometimes people need an official deadline to get themselves in the chair to work. Nothing wrong with that.

For what it's worth, this is my 7th year doing NaNo, and I've passed the 50k goal five times and 25k once. This year I've read 40 books so far. I review books on my blog. I publish an online magazine called Electric City Creative that's dedicated to creative culture in Montana. I'm a firm believer in "Stop whining and do something."

Thanks for the article.

Of course she's against the very notion of NaNoWriMo. Her (and other writers) have long benefited from the idea that their profession is difficult; it cuts down on competition. To be fair, writing IS difficult, but in the past that truth has worked on it's own to scare away other neophyte writers.

However, NaNoWriMo says 'Don't be afraid, it's OK if what you write isn't good AT FIRST, just write and get it out on paper, and then edit later'. I think that's a good thing. It gets people into the practice of writing, and there is no way anyone can make an intelligent case out of discouraging people from being literate.

However, I agree that it does need to be stressed that what is produced in 30 days is often (if not in every case) short of what qualifies as a novel. I do wish that many would realize this and not jump the gun, but at the same time I'm not surprised by it. People have a long history of believing what they want to, and of skipping what are often necessary, crucial steps.

In the end, in presenting her case, Laura Miller comes across as being petulant petulant, or else frustrated that her profession isn't as exclusive as it once was.

For me, NaNoWriMo is as much a self development exercise as a creative endeavor. How will I deal with boredom in week 2? Will I be drawn to write in a group at a write-in? What will help me push through blocks? Will my kids be increasingly or decreasingly supportive as the weeks go on, and how will I react? I also find rolling up my sleeves to write causes me to be a more attentive, appreciative reader. It's harder than it looks! So it's all good, I think.

As a sixth-year NaNoWriMo participant, THANK YOU for this. I read her column and felt as if my heart was breaking - because you know what? Most of the VORACIOUS readers, who have the most extensive collections of books? Are writers, both professional and amateur. My acquaintance Seanan McGuire (who currently has two series being published, with a total of four books out at the moment, and two more to come next spring) has one of the most extensive book collections I've ever seen. Neil Gaiman has an entire room that is bookshelves, all of them full, there have been pictures on his blog. I've been inside Tamora Pierce's house, and there are LOADS of books, even outside her and her husband's offices. And my own house (with me and my wife, both of us writers and NaNo-ers) has three bookcases full, as well as a bunch of books stacked on the desk, the kitchen table, the microwave, and in boxes under the bed.

The fact of the matter is that Miller is clueless as to what a writer actually IS. A writer is a lover of stories, first and foremost. They have stories that they want to tell, certainly, but they also love other people's stories. Books, movies, music - anything with a story in it is bound to appeal to a writer somewhere. There have been books based on the story told by works of art (Girl with the Pearl Earring comes to mind), there have been books based on old stories that everyone knows, there have been books based on true stories and books based on dreams. There have been books based on other books, which might have even been based on OTHER books. I have never once met a writer who didn't love to read. Reading fills us with new energy, new inspiration, new ideas. It gives us a respite from our own toiling at the keyboard, and it gives us hope that maybe we can tell a story worth hearing.

And, even more importantly when it comes to nano... the vast majority of the participants hold no illusion that their first draft will be submission-worthy, or even that they'll EVER be published. While I think it would be amazing to see my book out there on bookshelves, I know I'll never be published, because I never submit my work. But writing brings me joy. I love to share my stories with friends, if they want to read them. I love to create, even if I'm the only one who will ever see the finished product. It's not about money, and it's not about fame - it's about creation. That's all Nano is - it's creation.

The Laura Millers of the world can suck it - we're going to take our November and we're gonna SHINE.

Carolyn, I'm bookmarking this blog because I'm so impressed with your post. I can't believe anyone (especially another writer) would be so negative about honest efforts to write. Plus, the support NaNoWriMo authors give each other is amazing. I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo last year, but I did work alongside my daughter (who wrote her 50,000 words--and more) to complete a substantive edit of a novella. I finished that, too, and am not sure I would have done it in such a short time frame if I hadn't been motivated by NaNoWriMo. My daughter wrote about her NaNo experience in the latest issue of the online literary magazine Talking Writing: http://talkingwriting.com/?p=4887.

Cheers for this post. You're bolstering the majority sentiment in the comments we left on Laura Miller's mean-spirited piece at Salon.

What I notice is that those who are hyper-critical of NaNoWriMo don't seem to have a firm grasp of how publishing works, of the kinds and quantities of filters that exist between Aspiring Writer and Bookstore Shelf. Just because NaNoWriMo results in more queries to literary agents (almost no one submits directly to publishers anymore, and how much slushier could the slush pile get?), doesn't mean those agents suddenly turn on their blinders and take on all the NaNo "winners" as clients.

There's still a long and arduous vetting process in place to get a book published. Agents back work that will sell. Most NaNo books won't, and will result in form rejections or ignores from agents if they are queried before heavy revision.

But that doesn't mean the process of participating in NaNoWriMo is worthless. It's not a workshop to help you write a polished, salable book. It's a test of self-discipline and devotion, a chance for those who want to write to force themselves to actually write. It's the first rung of a tall, intimidating ladder.

Laura Miller and those others who would knock aspiring writers from that first rung expose themselves as mean-spirited, exclusionary elitists who don't understand how the publishing industry works, or NaNoWriMo's marginal role in it.

Thank you for this well-stated article. I have been amazed at how many articles are out there with nothing but negative things to say about NaNoWriMo and the people that participate. I am a first time participant this year. I am a 39 year old wife and mother. I also work full time. Over the last two years, I have written two other novels, the last one taking me over a year to complete. I enjoy writing as well as READING! I find it hard to believe that anyone could have a basis for stating that NaNoWriMo participants are not readers. We love the craft or we wouldn't be doing this. NaNoWriMo can be a great tool for those that use it as it was meant to be used...a catalyst for something better to come. That's what December is for. Thanks again for so eloquently pointing out the obvious to the nay-sayers who can't seem to see it.

I didn't join Nano so I could submit the final script to a publisher. I'm not sure of the number of people who joined to do exactly that, so I can't really ask "WHO DOES THAT?"

But I joined because I write decently, had a plot in my mind I've been wanting to write about for months, and needed a kick in the backside to start it. Nano provides such a kick. And a compelling one at that. And that's it. Fin.

I can say with conviction that I'm not the only one in this position.

Hey Mr. Martin, I think you could use a cigarette. They're quite relaxing, and would probably help keep you from going off half-cocked on the internet.

Frankly, there are good reasons to participate in Nanowrimo, and also some very good reasons not to. But there's no reason to turn the "write or don't write" discussion into a sanctimonious argument, piling absurdities upon other absurdities until the original mission of the month is lost. Every year, I reach the end of November with one more first draft in my back pocket than I had at the start. So do thousands of other people. Sure, maybe they'll never get published, or even reworked into what most of us would consider "readable" -- I freely admit that my own effort from last year was 80% crap. And yet it helped, too: I'm a better writer, and I daresay even a better reader, than I was the year before for having done it, because I've engaged the still-flourishing side of my creativity and made fresh connections within my intellect. Whereas you, Martin, are still the same old cynic. Part of me hopes that you aren't even reading this reply, since you clearly hold the blog and anyone who would even dare agree with a single element of it in such high contempt. Enjoy riding the high horse you keep atop your ivory tower, sir. I've got a book to write.

Thank you for this. I was shocked by the Salon article -- it just felt needlessly bitter.

My first NaNo (2006) was picked up by HarperCollins (at auction) in a three book deal. I'm now published in four countries, and in 2011, I'll have two novels and a memoir coming out. I directly attribute this to FINALLY learning how to finish a damn book with the help of NaNoWriMo. Yep, I'm still paying off the loans from my MFA, which was great and helpful, but I didn't have to finish a thing in the ivory tower. NaNo, if used the right way, is a life-changing event. If used in the wrong way, it's just plain fun, so who cares?

Write on, all.

From Laura Miller:


My stop is coming right up, but before I get off this bus, I guess I should make one last bid to re-communicate my actual point. The argument I'm erroneously presumed to have made is apparently so sensationally sexy that this effort is probably doomed, but I'm a Jacket Copy fan, so if I'm going to give it another shot, this seems like the place.

In my original piece, I do not admonish anybody not to do NaNoWriMo. In fact, I do not care or mind if anyone decides to do it. If people have fun doing this or otherwise find it satisfying, then great, go right ahead. Knock yourselves out.

True, I do suggest that a novel written in 30 days is not likely to be very good, but the founders of NaNoWriMo say the same thing. I say that any NaNoWriMo novel will probably need a lot of revision before it is suitable for submission to an agent or editor, but NaNoWriMo boosters say that, too. I say that many of the manuscripts won't be readable even if they are revised, but this is also something a lot of NaNoWriMo contestants have acknowledged when they say that they accept the challenge purely as an exercise. (Can I point out, though, that you can't have it both ways? If the quality of the NaNoWriMo novels isn't the point and isn't important, why get so indignant when someone speculates that they are probably bad?)

I do not say that I want people to stop writing novels. I say exactly the opposite.

I do not disparage NaNoWriMo contestants, let alone "kick them in the teeth."

I do not say that NaNoWriMo contestants do not read.

I DO put the event in the context of a culture where 81% of people say they want to write a book (reported by Joseph Epstein in the New York Times in 2002) yet only 57% report having read a book for pleasure in the past year (from the NEA study of the same year -- this data is old, yes, but it's the only data we have, and NEA studies since have indicated little improvement). Of course NaNoWriMo is not to blame for this. I never said it was, and object to being accused of this. However, I don't see that NaNoWriMo is helping the situation, either.

My point is not that NaNoWriMo contestants are bad people who do bad things and should be condemned. I don't think that, and never wrote that. Let me reiterate: I have nothing against people wanting to write. (I will confess to being disgusted by people who want to write but don't read, but again, I never said this was true of all NaNoWriMo contestants, only that it is often reported by writing teachers and other professionals who come into frequent contact with aspiring writers. Are there stats on this? No -- neither are there stats to prove that aspiring writers read a lot. To me, it's amazing that ANY aspiring writers admit to not reading. Yet I have met quite a few of them myself.)

I DO write that the resources going into the *apparatus* of NaNoWriMo -- nonprofit status, fundraising ($300K+ this year, according to the website), paid staff, volunteers, website, press campaigns -- strike me as squandered. Like you, Carolyn, I'm inclined to compare the writing of NaNoWriMo novels to knitting or maybe making scrapbooks; it's certainly a harmless pastime, but I can't imagine soliciting donations for a nonprofit organization urging more people to knit or scrapbook or play championship Scrabble. Maybe it's just the circles I move in? I figure if you want to knit, knit.

However, I should add that I don't even necessarily see the NaNoWriMo outfit as a Bad Thing. It's got an inventive and jaunty style that's hard to dislike. I just wish more such energy was directed toward the celebration of reading, which is why I tried to call attention to the 10/10/10 challenge, something nearly everyone seems to have conveniently ignored in their mad rush to see my piece as a takedown of NaNoWriMo contestants.

I agree that literary culture IS an ecosystem, and it is sadly out of whack. NaNoWriMo is not responsible for this, but it is part of a larger cultural pattern that glorifies writing over reading. Many of the respondents to my essay argue that writing is "creative" while reading is merely "consumptive." I disagree.

Ironically, I believe writers can only benefit from a campaign take some of the respect and (for want of a better term) glamour attached to writing and transfer it to reading, a shift that might correct the sadly prevalent impression (especially among students) that reading is school, a medicinal duty. Nothing is sadder than the prospect of a future in which hundreds of thousands of novels -- some of them possibly quite good -- go utterly unread. That is why I would rather cheer people on for reading more, and reading more widely, than cheer them on for writing, especially since they're probably going to write anyway. However, not wanting to cheer someone on is not the same as attacking them.

I think the problem is that every writer sees him or herself as an isolated and beleaguered individual. This makes it difficult to grasp how something like NaNoWriMO might seem like the most helpful thing for you personally, right now in the short run, but that directing some or all of that enthusiasm elsewhere might, in the long run, be more helpful to all writers, as a class. A rising tide, as they say, lifts all boats. Writers have a hard time seeing themselves as a class, but they are. Believe me, the people who seek to profit from aspiring writers have no trouble viewing them that way, and making a nice living off of them as a result. I know NaNoWriMo gives aspiring writers a sense of community, but I wish that they had the vision to see how that sense of community might be turned to a larger good.

Like Jonah, I too am participating in this event because it's good motivation. I love writing, I write reasonably well, and I want to do more of it. Yet it can be difficult to get past the laziness factor after a long day of work and sit down and get the words on the screen, so to speak. Having a semi-official "deadline", even if there's no actual consequences for NOT reaching it, makes it easier for me to sit down and do the work. The strange idea that people who choose to participate in nano are largely terrible writers, or non-readers, or selfish, or foolish enough to think that they can slam out a manuscript and get it published with little to no editing is incredibly insulting to the many of us who in no way fit that bizarre stereotype.

So thank you, Carolyn Kellogg, for your sensible and logical repudiation of some very strange ideas! Your article was greatly appreciated.

Carolyn, Great post. Since when is more creativity in the world ever a bad thing? Really? I wonder about the backlash. What NaNoWriMo seems to strike in writers that are established. It's not like famous painters bash those learning the craft of painting, or successful musicians bash those new to their instruments. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. There's always a hand ready to help in the arts, it seems, stories of masters teaching students.

This is my seventh year. I've "won" the past six years. But winning is simply writing, even if you don't get to 50,000 words. Because by writing even a single word you open a new window into a world you never explored before. What's wrong with exploring imagination? Nothing. NaNoWriMo is fun. A lot of fun. And a great way to meet new, amazing, creative friends.

Miller's article was one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever read. And I don't throw that phrase out lightly; even when I don't particularly like a work or article I still regard it as something that took someone a while to work on and should be respected as such.
But that can't be said about Miller's article. She clearly sees NaNoWriMo as a cause that must have an opposition, and she is prepared to give it that opposition all by herself. As a first time participant of NaNoWriMo I felt personally attacked by her article. She called my work that I have been gathering concepts for for over five years a piece of crap.

I hope that I can finish my novel and get it published just so I can send her a copy with a strong worded letter tucked behind the cover.

Then again, what more can we expect from Miller?
She wrote an anti-Chronicles of Narnia book.

Everything she writes is negative

I'd just like to say thank you.

It's a sad world when we have to argue the neccessity of allowing people to hope to be something more than they are, and I think you've said everything that really needed to be said. The comments already say everything I feel about ti, so I'll leave it there. Thank you again!

EXACTLY. Nano is what made me realize how awesome reading and writing really is. I was a reader before, but now I devour books and have been able to get my friends on the band wagon also. I'm in high school, and I surely wouldn't have been this successful in school without nano at this time in my life.

Miller's article disappointed me and I'm very glad that you wrote this in response. I heartily agree with everything you're saying.

And to all the nano participants: get back to writing! ;D

I resent the fact that my effort last year (and again this year) can be so easily torn down by Ms. Miller. I hope she realises that not everyone who writes their novel in November will submit it - ever. And no one is asking her to read our novels, either.

For me, writing during November is about realising my dream to be a writer, whether there is a martketplace for it, or if it's narcissitic.

Thank you for standing up and encouraging the writers.

Regarding Laura Miller's response to this article:

>I DO put the event in the context of a culture where 81% of people say they want to write a book (reported by Joseph Epstein in the New York Times in 2002) yet only 57% report having read a book for pleasure in the past year.

Might be a more salient variable to compare how many people DID write a book (as opposed to WANT to), versus how many read a book for pleasure in the past year.

Those numbers would undoubtedly tell a very different, and considerably more relevant story.

As someone who is a NaNoWriMo writer, AND a reader, and hosts a website for people to share what they write, I assure you, there is more than enough audience out there for what is being written. As any published writer worth their salt (including Ben Bova, Issac Asimov, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and many other authors over the years in various interviews) will tell you, writing a lot means you are reading a lot. Period. You can't be a writer unless you read. It's like being a musician who doesn't listen to music.

In addition, just because their periodicals aren't selling, and books aren't selling, doesn't mean people aren't reading. There is a MASSIVE audience for online fiction. Just search for web fiction on google to find plenty of online novels updating in the style of the old serial novels, getting thousands of people reading them.

Hear hear! :)

Oh, ha, thank you so much for your fabulous energy around the silly anti-nano article. It makes it all worthwhile, giving you the opportunity to rise up to your full height (as I call it). The funniest thing to me is the idea that readers are better than writers. Um, yeah, uh, what exactly are the readers reading then? Eh? It's like the seriously dysfunctional idea that giving is better than receiving. Do the math (Einstein didn't, he quoted this too.) Without the receiver, the giver is thwarted. They are equal. Wait, the receiver may be even more important, because the giver is actually getting a gift by having the gift received! Whew!
And I can tell you that the staggering activity around NaNoWriMo is helping me remember that my business launch is not the end unto itself. It's really all to help me build a life that supports my fiction writing. Why? Well, it's not necessarily to have a zillion readers/dollars. It's because I am fully myself when I am crafting a story.
Thanks, and thank you NaNoWriMo. Go writers! Feed the collective imagination! After those elections, heaven knows we need it!
Suzanna

I'm taking part in Nanowrimo for the first time this year, and so far I've written more in three days than I usually manage in a month.

For Miller to make such wild and bold claims without any knowledge of the project is ridiculous. Why shouldn't we be allowed to write if we want to write? Right now, I am writing for fun. When I'm not writing, I'm reading. Now, not in a million years would I expect anyone to publish the trash I'm writing right now! I'm doing this because it is important to me. I really don't care about snobs who dislike this project, because for me, it works. It's motivational and fun, and I'm quickly forming a basic storyline in my head that I will hopefully one day write a full length novel with.

>In my original piece, I do not admonish anybody not to do NaNoWriMo.

Uh - the title of the piece is: "Better Yet, DON'T Write That Novel - Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy." What exactly is that intended to communicate?

Well stated, Carolyn!

I found it extremely funny that when one of Laura's main points was that unedited writing is no good, that her blog has two (count 'em, TWO) typos. I just found the second one reading your response.

"These two women read 10 book"
Er... should be "bookS"

"writers -- who, let's face, will keep on pounding the keyboards"
Um.... she means "let's face IT"

-Bill

I went into Miller's article ready to bash and came out agreeing with many of her statements.
I disagree with your first opinion, though - she doesn't lay the blame at the dwindling lack of readers and surplus of writers at the feet of NaNoWriMo. I think Miller's is a cautionary article - if you're writing just to win, you're going to shovel out a lot of nonsense. If you're shoveling nonsense and still expecting to win, you'll be reaching for higher than you're ready for.
Perhaps you are like me, and have many friends who actually enjoy reading...but understand that you and I are among a minority. I am hard-pressed to find many fellow college-kids who read outside of academic assignments, for liesure. Most of the responses center around 'I don't have time' and 'I don't like reading'. Sure, some of the older generation spend time reading for fun. But if you don't have the habit ingrained, then you don't develop discerning reading skills or even learn to enjoy it.
On the other hand, I'm a writer. I like to write and I've been writing since freshman year high school. Honestly, I have written a lot of crap (God, but looking back on old manuscripts is cause for humiliation) and I can understand the trepidation. Still, I wouldn't stop writing for the world. I don't even know if it's physically possible! And I'm all for discovering new writers - always. I might go ahead and take up the challenge of those two women Miller named. That would be just as worthy a cause!
(p.s. I'm from Tucson and I'm curious - have any of you heard of the Festival of Books?)

 
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