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12 reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo


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.

Comments () | Archives (181)

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I just want to say thank you for this article. It's unfortunate that bitter people like Laura feel the need to spread their uninformed nonsense, but even more unfortunate that they have a mildly reputable source to help them do so.

Thank you for this rebuttal. It is smart, to the point, and much more worthy of my time than someone who writes simply to be hateful.

As a first time nanowrimo-er, i find it repulsive that people would try and deny the public of something that is as much education as anything else that school could teach. I read all the time (even during this month that i shouldn't even have time to shower) and would never give up books to writing. the best authors know that its not about the money but about the readers: do writers hate libraries? Of course not! Its just another way to educate the masses and to bring their literature to everyone.

Hi, I was directed here from the LiveJournal NANOWRIMO community.

I am a first time participant in the challenge but have been writing for pleasure for several years. I am really enjoying the challenge, it's a wonderful opportunity to really push myself as a writer.

I don't see why anyone should dislike such a peaceful and noble endeavour as this. Maybe a prize winning author will emerge, maybe they won't. Maybe the next JK rowling will appear, maybe they won't. Maybe a book will emerge that is so important it will change the world forever, maybe it won't. The point is people are trying to create something good, something wonderful, something. In an increasingly dark and cynical world surely that is a good thing.

I might submit my story to a publisher in the New Year (not on December 1st) and if I do it will be thoroughly edited and checked beforehand and I will make sure it is in the correct format! I can and will hope that it might be picked up but I won't be dispondant if it isn't. I tried.

People are far too willing to knock things and sneer at them and why does everything have to be about winning. The old adage, 'it's not the winning it's the taking part' springs to mind.

The fact of the matter is that the only true way to improve your writing is simply to write.

NaNoWriMo encourages people to do just that.

And to set the record straight, I personally, have probably been doing more reading in more fields since I began writing (and participating in NaNoWriMo) than I ever did before. Some of us lowly writers actually do believe in research.

What I don't understand is how writers are expected to improve without practice. I bet she doesn't go down to the Little Athletics carnivals and yell out "You can't run as fast as the pros, stop trying! You're taking all the money away from REAL athletes!"

NaNo is about encouraging growth and experimentation. Everyone gets something unique out of it each time they do it, which is why people come back year after year.

And as a NaNo ML, I'd say that a lot of conversation at our write-ins and kick off parties are about books. In fact, I'm reading a new series now based purely on a recommendation from a trusted fellow NaNoer!

There is nothing I can say, but thank you.
Without NaNo I probably wouldn't have written, it encouraged me to just do it! And I personally don't feel like everything I'm writing is crap.
Ms. Miller may some day see the light, but if not, I rest easy knowing there are thousands of words being written right now, simply because it's enjoyable for people to write.

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."- James Michener

Well said, Carolyn, and thank you for writing this post. I think that the worst thing that anybody can say to a would-be writer (or a would-be anything for that matter) is "Don't bother, it's already been done" and it was disappointing that Ms. Miller was propagating that kind of negativity in such a widely-read forum.
Sure, I would imagine that it's not fun for literary agents to receive an onslaught of badly-written novels in the aftermath of NaNoWriMo but let's face it: a.) literary agents are already receiving an onslaught of badly-written novels on a daily basis and b.) I have not seen ONE THING on NaNoWriMo's web site encouraging people to submit their first drafts to literary agents.
Anything that gets people interested in reading and writing is a good thing.
Personally, I'm finding NaNo to be an excellent way to get back in the rhythm of writing every day. Sure, maybe what I'm writing here isn't Pulitzer material but at least I'm doing it because any good writer knows that the more you practice, the better you will become.

Thank you so very much.

As a participant in NNWM this year, I became very frustrated after reading the mentioned article. The mere assumption that writer's shouldn't write because nobody will read their work makes no sense to me.

Are we in a deluge of literature? Certainly. But should that stop us from practicing our artform? No. If anything, we should be spurred on by the sheer amount of work out there.

Write on, friends.

Thank you for writing this!

The point of Nanowrimo (at least for myself) is to challenge myself to put on paper the ideas I have in my head. And to have fun. And to go slightly insane.

For someone to say that others shouldn't write because they should instead be reading is like saying that someone shouldn't talk because they should be listening to the other people who are already talking.

If people are inspired to write, I think that that should be encouraged.

The problems with lack of readers have nothing to do with a large influx of writers. I would say that books have lost ground to media such as movies and music where advertisements are more effectively used. People actually know when a movie is coming into theaters. Yet, when was the last time a book was heavily advertised? Honestly, I can't think of one. I don't think that the world of literature is ever going to be decimated but I do think that it needs to reinvent itself.

sorry for the tangent! and thanks again for writing this!

Laura Miller said:

"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."

NaNoWriMo did not become a nonprofit organization until four years ago. At that time, they expanded their work from a fun challenge to a year-round service organization. The Office of Letters and Light (NaNoWriMo's 501(c) parent) promotes worldwide literacy. They sponsor the international Young Writers Program, which encouraged reading and writing in 1,200 classrooms last year. They have donated computers to classrooms and money to create 7 libraries in Vietnam.

Squandered resources? Hardly.

Thank you.

THANK YOU SO MUCH (for defending not just me, but all the others who participate in NaNoWriMo)!!

Thanks for your rebuttal. I'm not in NaNoWriMo because I have any grandiose notions of producing The Great American Novel in one divinely inspired draft. I read two or three books a week, adore reading and I just want to experience the other side of the process. When one is in the business of finding new writing talent, as is Ms. Miller, one has to slog through a lot of bad writing. The pitfall is that one can become somewhat of a curmudgeon and lapse into a "Flannery O'Connor" mentality: "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.”
Although it's a bit twisted and counter-intuitive, I think Ms. Miller might regard stifling writers as part of her job. I certainly hope she is not as jaded and cynical as most of her article would indicate.

Thank you! It is disappointing to see bashers of nanowrimo get so much attention. I feel that often times they are missing the point and skewing the quotes to suit their needs. I LOVE to read and am a nanowrimo participant. I am a huge fan of the sense of community it creates and creativity it fosters. My life has been infinitely happier since finding nanowrimo last year. I have made connections I otherwise might not have. I also know that nanowrimo encourages editing if you are of the mind for publication. But its like any other warning label put on a product, if the consumer chooses to ignore it the manufacturer will not be held accountable.

Thank you for this excellent article, Carolyn. This is my third year participating in NaNoWriMo and I am excited to repeat my win from last year (I can only hope).
I started the writing day reading Miller's article in which she completely missed the point of NaNoWriMo. Admittedly I was upset but completely undeterred. I read it, laughed at how facile it was, and went back to writing. I can say that I am not personally deluging any publishers with my unedited work (my friends haven't even read it yet) nor am I not a reader. The reason I wanted to do this three years ago was because I was inspired by the books I've read.
Miller's article today was my first impression of her and Salon and I thought she was anything but 'thoughtful and sweet'. I will not be reading anything she writes in the future just as she does not have to read anything I write (my blog, short stories, poems, novels, etc). I am not telling her to stop writing her articles so I do not understand why she would like me to stop writing. I'm not worried about the nay-sayers. I can bet more people read the LA Times than Salon and will have read/will read this article.
To anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year:
1) good luck in your endeavor-be it science fiction, young adult, romance, or whatever it is and
2) shouldn't you be writing right now?

You have made my day with this post. You have completely inspired me to keep on chugging along at my word count! Thanks for the motivation to keep going.

FYI I read a ton of books by the way. I read so many that my husband actually puts a limit on how many I can get a month because I'd spend all of our going out money on books if I could. Just wanted to point out, that you were definitely correct that writers are readers as well. I was a reader first that graduated into becoming a writer.

As a sixteen year old girl who loves writing but rarely finishes anything she starts, I'm surprised that three days into my first NaNo I have 12,000 words and no intention of quitting. I don't care if I fall into a coma tomorrow, wake up on the twenty-ninth and finish with 12,010 words: I'm doing my best, and I'm seeing this through. Already this has been a life-changing experience for me. I've never just written to write before. I've never gone a paragraph without deciding whether that pesky comma should be a semi-colon (I left it a comma). I've never written a character, knowing he wasn't acting harsh enough, and just left it. I've never, ever in my writing "career" said: I'll fix it when it's done. And there's something incredibly freeing about that.

I'm not stupid, and not that many of NaNoers are. I'm writing a trashy "romance with deep characterization" that I know will never in it's lifetime get published. And I know next year's will be just as bad, and the year after that. But it's fun for me, as a teenager with hormones and guys on her mind, to write about hot guys falling for average girls like me, and it's fun for my best friend to read, since I fill it chock full of inside jokes and I based it off actual stuff we do. Plus, it's a stepping stone. I've always known that I would have to be extremely lucky to live off of writing, my favorite thing to do, and I have no intention of resting my hopes and dreams on it. If I ever get published--many, many years and writing seminars from now--I'd be on cloud nine. But I love it, and if NaNo makes me--or anyone else--a better writer for it, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The author you're referring to--Miller--has obviously never had fun writing, and has obviously never done NaNo.

Miller sounds like a snob.

She assumes the point of writing a book MUST be to get published. Many write for personal reasons -- as a type of personal therapy, exploration, a challenge or just for fun. Whether the writer plans to attempt to get published or not, finishes or not, it's the attempt that matters in this.

Thank you! I didn't read the original article but stumbled across this trying to get to the actual NaNoWriMo site to update my own word count. Not all NaNoWriMos will flood publishers with their freshly written, unedited crap come December. Some of us are participating just for the joy and insanity of it, for the sake of our passions for reading and writing. Sure I've always dreamed of one day publishing my own novel, but I'm competing just for the sake of writing creatively again for the first time in three years. I'm writing to challenge myself because for all that I have dreamed of one day writing a novel it has daunted and terrified me and I've never written more than a single page of any novel idea.
And what the hell is that "selfless art of reading" nonsense?! I was waiting for you to comment on that part as well. Sure, I read things I have to for work or school. I read to be more informed on a subject. But I am also an incredibly selfish and self-indulgent reader most of the time. I read fantasy fluff because that's what I love.
The benefits of NaNo and its goal goes beyond writing. It means trying that new hobby, taking that dance class, putting aside the fear of trying something new and knowing that in all likelihood you will make a complete fool of yourself but do it anyways, for the experience, for the fun of it. The philosophy behind NaNo also means not keeping your ideas silent and hidden at work because they may not be worthy but actual brainstorming and thinking through all the crap ideas in order to finally work up to a good one. It also means not stiffling our childrens' aspirations and play because they may not be good enough or it may not get them anywhere in life. Not all of our pursuits have to involve successful jobs or saving the planet/society. It's not only alright but good for us to play and be silly and frivolous once and a while.
20-something first time NaNo-competitor and loving every minute of it!
And if NaNo bothers you that much then stop following it on Twitter or anywhere else and leave us to our fun. Stop poo-pooing on my NaNo and I won't throw the same idiotic critisms at you for your past-times (narcissistic selfish joggers aren't adding any benefit to the world, exercising so they can look and feel good. These empty criticisms can be thrown at anyone.)

Dude, we don't just write 50000 words and send it off to a publisher. We write 50000 words (often more!!!), and edit for several months.

I'm a reader, and I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo - I have for several years now, although I've yet to make it to 50,000 words in one month. I never, ever go into it with the intention of letting another person read any of it. I'm not trying to write something so I can send it to a publisher. I'm writing because it's fun to see how far I can get and what I can come up with, and because when I was a kid I wanted to be an author. Every year I take part in NaNoWriMo I end up truly impressed with the authors who wrote the books I enjoy. Granted, they probably didn't give themselves a month to write their books from start to finish, but they did have schedules to keep, and often full-time jobs in addition to their writing work, and yet they still managed to churn out the words and refine them into something enjoyable.

She's just jealous. :D
I'm tickled to death that they referenced the forum topic I started (although stole from someone else last year) in this article.
My second NaNo this year, going good.
"NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it's largely unnecessary."?
That isn't even backed up by logic. It's just... prejudice. And mean.
It honestly sounds like she was just looking for a good group to hate on (troll, anyone?) and randomly drew us out of a hat.

I hadn't planned on responding, I don't like getting involved in possible arguments, but I've not been in a very happy dispostion today so here I go.

So NaNoWriMo participants shouldn't write. Okay. Guess sports should be left to the pros, marathons left to those participating for a charity, no one should act during their secondary and post-secondary years or after for that matter, people shouldn't make their own little movies, computers shouldn't be available to people not planning on working with them, people shouldn't have their personal gardens and so on and etc. I think the most important thing to be said is no one should apply for a job. There's enough workers out there, how dare those pesky people without job experience try to get a job when there are so many people with experience.

There is no reason why people shouldn't participate in NaNoWriMo. That's like saying we can't have a hobby, that we can't have dreams, that we can't express ourselves. Yes, there are going to be people that rush through things but how - HOW - can anyone suggest that people are going to be perfect? No one is perfect and therefore no industry is perfect. People make mistakes because we have this little thing I like to call free-will. Should we trash that as well and 'solve' all these problems? Start controling the lives of all? Hmm, I can't wait to learn Newspeak. Nothing like the degeneration of language.

In anticipation of the extreme being attacked I must say I exaggerate to prove a point. Then again...

I'm puzzled by the argument in Laura's comment about writers being a class that would be better off directing some or all of that enthusiasm elsewhere. Participants of NNWM are more than likely unpaid, amateur writers who, like any aspiring marathoner, have been issued a voluntary leisure challenge and have as such chosen to accept. They need hardly feel guilty for the plight of the collective writers' boat's buoyancy. Furthermore, there are plenty of writers who read all the time, and isolated or anecdotal evidence to the contrary proves the rule that there are lazy, ignorant people in every sphere, even the writers'.

The more generous approach (and less disingenuous than Miller's response to this article, when, after all, the headline of her story was "Then Again, Don't Write That Novel) would be to champion Miller's own examples of worthy reading and writing causes without the unnecessary bashing of NNWM, an attack which is petty and seems designed to provoke page views. If she knows for certain that the non-profit running the event provides no benefit to the world other than promoting the November event, then that's an expose that would require more information. Otherwise, it's just pot-stirring.

I daresay that the Venn Diagram of our reading and writing communities are but a stingy sliver of the greater American culture; we should be giving comfort and encouragement to each other wherever we can. Picking on NNWM, calling it out as a menace, does neither either.

I COULD NOT AGREE WITH YOU MORE! Let see Miller sit down and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, THEN write about it. This is not a competition, or a contest, it's a writing challenge. Last year I decided to sign up to jump start, or jump STOP my procrastination on a novel which was in my head, and partially on my laptop since 2001. I not only crossed the finish line, but did so three days early while working a full time job... as the head writer for a national trade publication. So, I was writing all day, and still have time and fortitude to come home and write at night and on weekends.

After I saw that WINNER logo, I spent the better part of the following year on the edits, rewrites and an additional 15,000 words and the now completed novel is in the hands of my AGENT, and I'm onto my 2nd competition which will be the beginning of my FOURTH completed novel.

I am a published author, and a professional writer and I find this contest to be a lot of fun. Maybe some of what I'm doing is crap, writing fast doesn't really allow much time to sweat the small stuff, but that's for AFTER the race is won.

Sometimes it's the journey, sometimes it's the goal, this is definitely BOTH!

Thank you! I finished NaNoWriMo last year. I am not a professional writer. I often read books and think I could do that. I decided to put myself to the test. I finished in 17 days and had loads of fun doing it.

I didn't bombard publishers with my manuscript, in fact I didn't let a soul read it. This year I am writing an equally sordid romance, but I am sharing it on my blog (why not give it away free, it's not going to be sold?).

I can't understand why anyone would care if another person uses their spare time to write? Hmm ...

In Laura Miller's defense:

One: in reply to an earlier poster, Miller's "Magician's Book" is very much not an anti-Chronicles of Narnia book. It's a book about how the things you read generally shift in their meaning and importance as you grow older. She loved them, then felt betrayed, then came to appreciate them for something that she never realized were a part of the story.

Two: Generally speaking, Miller's recommendations of books are frequently spot-on. Her interests are broad and its appreciable that she's been one of the many professional proponents of the not labeling genre. (Among her book club choices for this year: "The Passage" and "Freedom." One of her best reviews: Gary Shytengart's "Super Sad True Love Story.") She's less prejudiced and more open toward a story than Michiko Kakutani and B. R. Myers and James Wood, who escape general ire because they consider themselves so high brow.

Three: In her article, Miller explicitly stated that she has no desire to be a novelist. This criticism launched against her must have come from the same place the birthers pull their theories.

Four: O.K., she has an argument, and it's not untrue that a great deal of people who are working on a novel don't bother to actually read anything in their free time (or at any time at all) apart from social mediated status updates, but in this piece in particular she does not deliver it well at all, and it's probably unfair to use National Novel Writing Month as her launchpad. She kind of goes all over the place and makes these oft-mentioned negative generalizations.

I was an English major; I'm going to be an English major again, and when I went to school I was all stoked that I would be surrounded by people who read a lot of books and had all these ideas and recommendations and everything. Turns out, I was the one who read all the books and had all the recommendations, all these other English majors were either aspiring teachers (which is an even larger problem, considering more than a few of them did not believe Gregor Samson turned into a vermin, but felt like one for the whole narrative, and I could go on) or just thought they would receive an easy degree. We were given DeLillo's "Libra" -- a novel that demands patience and rereading -- and hardly anyone liked it because it wasn't immediate and RIGHT THERE. When DFW died, hardly anyone in any of my classes seemed to care. Pynchon wasn't a recognized name. Miller's pieces often helped steer me in some direction, toward something in a line of inspired reading.

I think Miller's criticism is mis-directed in her article, and you can feel her trying to assemble the disjointed, disproportionate pieces together to form her cohesive whole (which, of course, leaves many gaping holes that we're having so much fun pointing out). National Novel Writing Month and its participants aren't deserving of her ire. Still: she's among the strongest critics writing right now (especially w/r/t those on the Internet) and any activist of reading, even with the occasional misstep, as this one so very very evidently is, is someone still worth listening too.

ALSO: a few months ago, when The Guardian put out a list of a bunch of writers given writerly advice, Miller contributed a list of elements that readers enjoy. You'd think it'd be self-evident, some of the things she points out, but there are still plenty of aspiring writers who claim they don't have the time to read but still think they'll produce something great. Read that instead of this one. http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/02/23/readers_advice_to_writers

This is my seventh year participating in NaNoWriMo and I don't plan on stopping. I have never revised or submitted any of my books because I like to write purely for the sake of writing! Not to get sold. I think a major part of NaNoWriMo and why people like to do it is the COMMUNITY. I go to four write-ins every week where I meet people I have things in common with and connect with them through this event. And we get to celebrate together at the end. It's not all about the writing and the reading... I think anyone trying to crush any young artist's hopes is a cynic indeed.

Thank you for the rebute to Laura Miller. I can't imagine being my 16-year-old self again, trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, and having to read something as harsh as what she has written!

I read both articles and also Ms. Miller's response to Ms. Kellogg's article. I must say "What the heck?" when someone writes a title "Better yet, DON'T write that novel" and then turns around and says this: [p.2 Comments on "12 reasons..."]

From Laura Miller:

"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."

Seems to me she's denying what she said. Discouraging people from writing is insensitive. I would liken it to stopping someone from going to college because they are not particularly smart. Who's to say what the potential of a person is. Besides, someone who may not be good now, but has the determination to improve, may one day end up as brilliant writer for all the trials he/she went through.

I joined NaNoWriMo because I wanted to prove to myself that I can gather enough discipline to finish a novel in the alloted time. That's my only goal for now. And I can't let someone like Ms. Miller take that joy away from me. And I would also like to point out that in all the years that I wanted to write, I've read more books that I can count. It's because I read that I want to write.

Thank you Ms. Kellogg for your wonderful support.

First of all, I have to say that Ms. Miller's outlash at a huge group of people she'd never met and never planned to meet really confused me. To be honest, I thought she was doing some sort of really tacky, awkward parody of something I'd completely missed, not really being part of the media culture we live in.

This response, however, made much more sense, though I'm still sort of bemused over the original.

I've participated in NaNo for five or six years now, and it literally saved my English grade senior year of High School. Writing crap at least teaches you what not to do, because when you re-read it, you realize what you're doing wrong. Sometimes. Assuming you can figure out what you meant in the first place.

Also: Ms. Miller? I've been reading since I was three. I've read just about every book in the public library in both the towns I (sort of) live in, plus several thousand they don't own. Do not tell me that writing ridiculous amounts in a small amount of time means that you're a selfish, silly person who has better things to do with their time. As it so happens, I don't. There isn't much you can do while waiting for the bus, or on the bus, or waiting for someone to get off a computer so you can do your homework when you are required to carry notebooks and pens and every single textbook you own. Reading books are a luxury that don't fit into my bag, thanks. Note paper doubles as novel paper.

Thanks Carolyn,

For using logic and defending Nano against the likes of LM who simply doesn't have a clue. Every statement she makes can be turned on its side and you did it beautifully.

I can't help but wonder if she timed her diatribe just to get some exposure-it seems to be the web rationale for publicity: "Be hateful and see what happens".

I don't think my Nano project will do anything but help me learn to work more diligently, avoid procrastination, and learn to move into a Zone. It'll help in all aspects of life. Does she really think anyone who does Nano is naive enough to think they'll get published?

Your response was perfect.

What a sad thing this is. The original post is filled with writing problems - as if it were not edited - and the comments are often semi-literate. It's (or should I say "its"?) just very sad that we have come to this...Of course people should be able to write - but should I have to read half-literate jottings on a Los Angeles Times page?

Ambermist, I loved what you wrote in response. It's even better than the article, though that's on point too. I would love to read your book(s). If written as well as this comment, you have a big fan.

Thank you very much for writing this marvelous text. I really don't get why people like Miller object to such a great programme like NaNoWriMo. This is my second year around and as hard as it is sometimes, it is also nice to focus on one thing and spend all of your time trying to figure out what the one character has to do with the other one. That's the point. In this world where everything is already figuered out for you, computergames, TV, everything you get to figure out something by yourself and using your own imagination again.
I thank you again and keep up the wonderful writing.
Love from the Netherlands.

Shorter Miller Article: "Waaah, people are having more fun than me!"

Sorry, you old trout, our collective creativity is a LOT more worthy of reverence than your baseless pretensions are.

And by the way--just because we give ourselves permission to write crap, doesn't mean we actually end up writing crap. Be afraid, be very afraid. You are replaceable.

How is Miller's article even columnworthy? The tone is basically, "I'm going to tell everyone just what I feel about it." Like a blogger with a beef.

Wow. What could be this woman's (Laura Miller) motivation for wanting to discourage people's efforts in writing? She doesn't need to read the "bad books" created by hopefuls. I am a late bloomer as far as getting published is concerned. I didn't even start trying till this year and I was so proud to get my first real effort published in the wonderful Undead Nation Anthology. I am participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I am 44 years old, I have a spinal cord injury that causes me to, among other things, have very little control over my bladder, I have kidney problems, and due to various health issues and a long bout with depression, I am morbidly obese. Writing takes me out of thinking about these problems. If I want to do NaNoWriMo to see if I have a "bad book" in me, so what? How is this hurting Laura Miller? She doesn't need to shell out a single buck for my bad book! It may never even be published. But if it is, and someone else reads it and maybe even likes it, I can't see how this could in any way have any bearing on her life!


Marvelous rebuttal. Well said.

*Applause* Thank you! That is all.

I'm 8,090 words into my novel. Laura Miller can't stop me xD

Anytime something gets popular, a nasty little group of haters will pop up. It's one of the most predictable things about life on the Internet. As surely as forums have trolls, popular things have people who can't stand it. They're usually in the minority, but they're loud.

I agree with this response, and thank C. Kellogg for writing it, but I can't help but wonder, deep down, if this isn't just an attention-seeking, predictable, hater bandwagon designed to boost Miller's name recognition.

That being said... Write NaNos, Write. While the haters sit around and stew and hate, begrudging your happy success, you write. You make something that wasn't there before. It's a marvelous thing.

Your article rocks! I joined NaNo last year and am once again doing it this year. I think Miller needs a swift kick in the behind and you do it beautifully by writing this article. I am now and always will be a NaNo writer, whether I write crap or not. My story from last year is almost finished one round of editing (yes it is a long process to edit lol) and will be entering another round soon so that I may throw itout there for literary agents and hopefully one day become a published author. And if this NaNo story does make it to the shelf, can we laugh at Miller? :-D

Just as only pretty people should be seen in public without burkahs and only smart people should aspire to college, only excellent writers should bother picking up a pen. Everyone else, well. Why did we ever bother to teach them to write anyways?

Thank you for publicly sticking up for our right to write. Being mocked for trying something that's difficult is horrible; you're awesome for pointing this out.

Personally, I'd rather fast, wear a hair shirt and beat myself with a frozen birch branch throughout Noveember than participate in the nervefest that is Nano, but from what I understand, being part of a 'literate culture' requires the ability to both read AND write.

Any text written to meet the NaNoWriMo deadline, could have been written without the motivation of group activity. Therefore I agree with Miller: the NaNoWriMo apparatus squanders resources -- though people are free to spend their money however they think wisest. It strikes me odd that NaNoWriMo is defended so fiercely despite costing much and providing nothing that can't be had otherwise or elsewherefor free.

My primary objection to NaNoWriMo is the way its promoters and participants help to spread several anti-literary ideas: that one's experiences amount to literature if written down; that creativity is sufficient to turn the exercise of writing into the practice of an art; that what one has produced at the end of a month of writing may be called literature, if one has expended much effort and had much fun.

NaNoWriMo is a "challenge," some commenters have noted; but surely this is a pretense -- the suspenseful 30-day stipulation, the message boards, these are the trappings of a hobby enterprise, surely people are aware of this? The challenge of NaNoWriMo is entirely superfluous, if one means to writing something worth reading. The challenges of doing that are difficult enough.

Yeah, I read Miller's article, and it sickened and disgusted me to the point that I was forced to leave a reply that can only be described as scathing. It's not generally my style, but the way this person looks down on writers and makes blithely unfounded claims makes me sick. I see twelve good points in your article, and perhaps half of one in hers. And I can't even remember what it was, so it can't have been that good at all.

Firstly, thanks for writing this - it's far more eloquent, and elegant than the rantfest I was going to post.
Secondly There's one thing that people seem to be overlooking in all of these happy rants about how we weiters aren't reading and how there's no 'reader's month'. Eh - it might possibly be me being dense, but isn't there dozens, thousands even of book in a month clubs? Doesn't Oprah, and 'Richard and Judy' and other large organisations run lots of clubs for readers? Don't bookshops, or have the several towns I've lived in just been an anacronysm? I could just about swear there's dozens of em on Yahoogroups (book in a month clubs).

For the record, I'm writing 200k this month because I've spent this year not writing fiction at all - and I'm already at 25k. Is it dreck? Heck yeah - but at the same time, it's my dreck and it's more than I would have written given my life at the moment. And it's editable, and it'll need several passes, but that's just more of the fun of writing.



I hadn't even see the Salon article before now, but frankly it just made me all the more determined to finish my NaNo. Writing and reading satisfy different urges in people; both develop the mind and, lacking a better term with which to describe the part of us that appreciates and thrives on culture and art, the soul. Writing is hard, hard work, and I cannot fathom why or even *how* Miller-- a writer-- can tell people not to even try. I have heard it said, in fact, that writing is more commendable than reading because it is constructive and active, rather than the passive absorption of pre-constructed material neatly spoon-fed to you. I'm not sure I believe the whole of that, but there is some truth to it.


I am not one of the people who can or will ever be dissuaded from writing, but on behalf of those who, without the support of all you signalboosters and cheerleaders out there, might have given up in the face of this incomprehensible negativity, thank you. Thank you. *hugs*

I love you more than bunnies for this. Too true. You took all of my responses to that narrow-minded, logically flawed article and turned it into something more eloquent than I could write. I have to thank you for that.

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