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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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I sort of went off about this early this morning... and got blocked by a few writers that were blowing her horn as an online HERO, lol. Considering the number of kids participating in NANOWRIMO, I found the sheer ARROGANCE and SELF CENTEREDNESS of this... BASHER beyond belief.

NOT TO MENTION bookstores are CLOSING DOWN ACROSS THE NATION... and clearly this business owner is DESPERATE just to get some sort of traffic in the door regularly... even if its the kind that just sits around. A LAST DYING GASP FOR ANY BUSINESS. YES. TIMES ARE THAT BAD FOLKS... THESE PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE... and a WRITER is going to go online AND PUBLICLY COMPLAIN IT IS ANNOYING?????

R. U. KIDDING. ME?

SUPPORT YOUR BOOKSTORE YOU IDIOT! SUPPORT ANY BUSINESS THAT IS DESPERATE ENOUGH TO CATER TO A MONTH LONG CHALLENGE! HAVE YOU ANY IDEA WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD?

The next time this WRITER wants to do a book signing, or have one of their friends do a book signing, THIS STORE OWNER SHOULD SAY THEY DON'T WANT TO ANNOY ANYONE.

Or CHARGE THEM for the use of the space.

IF THEIR EVEN STILL OPEN.

Well said. I've done NaNoWriMo twice, one time making it to completion and one not. But the process was what made it worthwhile, meeting other writers, getting out to some of the "write-ins". Even though it's hard and most often nothing will come of it, it has great intrinsic value for me.

Oh, and I know very few writers who aren't avid readers as well.

A Salon columnist telling people not to bother writing because no one cares. There's some next-level irony for you.

An author I admire a lot once said in an interview about how to become a better author:
Read as much as you can. Every genre, not only what you want to write about. Because getting to know a lot of genres helps you. I guess that's true.

So I think the fear of publishers is unfounded. Since I do NaNoWriMo, I'm more motivated to read than ever. BUT I'm not willing to put up with crap like SMeyer, Paolini or other popular "authors" who sell millions of copies (and the praise they get - it's ridiculous! Even if I only write in November, I'm still better than them!). I even recently read "Fight Club". I bet not a lot of people even know that this is actually a book that was made into a movie, not the other way around or anything totally unrelated. Chuck Palahniuk is a genius. When I grow up as a writer, I wanna be a little more like him. More pictures, more feelings. It's inspiring me to try out something new.

Also, Miller is missing out something REALLY important:
When you do NaNoWriMo, at some point your head gets clear and you just write and it's fun. It's not work. It's like painting a picture just because you like painting. Even if it has flaws, but that's alrighty, because you're not trying to sell it or anything. And if people want to buy it anyway: Well, let them!
I really don't get people who are against a fun way to spend your time.

Miller's article is a very sophisticated, and thinly veiled troll. One of the rules of the internet--DO NOT FEED THE TROLL.

Laura Miller? consider yourself pwned.

I think that this is a great article. I've done NaNo several times before, completed it once, and am on a great start to finish this year as well. Every year, the anti-NaNo crowd crawls out of the woodwork to degrade and insult not only what people are accomplishing for NaNoWriMo, but apply similarly misinformed or mean-spirited screeds to the people doing it. Miller is just yet another in a very long line of people who make a great many assumptions about NaNo and the people doing it and then whining about it on the internet.

The comment in this thread from sixteen-year-old writer Moira perfectly summed up the rebuttal to Miller. Moira displays self-honesty, realistic expectations, and a willingness to learn and work hard to improve and achieve her goals.

From the tenor of this thread, most folks doing NaNo are doing it with a similar attitude, for similar reasons.

I think we've soundly proven Laura Miller's accusations wrong.

"the selfless art of reading"?
I can't speak for everyone, but reading is something I do entirely for myself. When I buy books I'm usually wondering how soon I can curl up and get reading rather than thinking how lucky the author is that I've deemed their work worthy of my time and money.

Reading the original blog, she almost makes reading sound like charity work, suggesting "benefit galas" to encourage the "fragile", "truly endangered" readers.
I'll leave it at this:
If reading isn't its own reward, start looking for a new hobby.

Thank you so much for this, it really turned my day back around after reading that other terrible article. <3

This will sound mean, but...

Has Laura Miller ever published a novel?

If not then, maybe it's sour grapes.

And for the other naysayers out there, maybe it's also some snobbery and/or insecurity.

And no, I haven't revised my novel from last year's NaNoWriMo yet. And no, I won't be sending it out to any publishing slush piles any time soon. Don't a lot of published writers claim to have early "bad" novels sitting in their drawers?

And yes, I can't imagine having the courage to write it (or this year's effort) without NaNoWriMo.

Oh, and there's a lovely bit in NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty's book:

"In short, we adored novels and glorified writers, and thought that if, after a month's labors, we could claim even the thinnest of alliances with that world, something mysterious and transformational would happen to us."
(No Plot, No Problem, p. 9)

Beautiful sentence.

Bravo!

You have no idea how delighted I was to find this article. You NAILED it. I actually feel sorry for Miller - she has so missed the boat.

I am a 6-time Nano participant and I have won all 6 times. I would never submit a first draft - I usually spend as much as a year in revision of my Nanos. I am also a voracious reader, and I read a wide range of books.

You're brilliant. Thank you.

There's plenty wrongness in Ms. Miller's article (and her rebuttal to this one) to go around. I'd like to just take a moment to highlight a small amount of it that hits me where I live:

"So 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. Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference...."

And Zachary Bos, on page 4 of these comments, agrees:

"Any text written to meet the NaNoWriMo deadline, could have been written without the motivation of group activity."

What I'm hearing Miller and Bos say is, "Writers don't need encouragement! They're write regardless, so why should anyone bother giving them emotional support?" And, frankly, I'm flabbergasted. What reality do these people live in?

Maybe they received all the support they needed from family and friends as they grew up, and so when they decided to write, they had no internalize voices telling them, "What a selfish pursuit. It's all crap. Get a real job. Writing isn't a valid use of your time. It's self-indulgent." They don't realize what power those voices have, and how many people, potentially of great talent, never acted on their dreams because they never heard one word of encouragement.

Or maybe they did... and, pushing through all that denial and dismissiveness, they came to the conclusion that if they can succeed despite naysayers, then anyone can--unless they're lazy good-for-nothings who aren't really cut out to be writers anyway. Sadly, I know several people like that. They pulled themselves out of hellish circumstances and made good out of their lives against all the odds--but they come out of this with the takeaway that since they did it all without help so anyone who does need help is just weak and despicable.

I was, thankfully, raised with a lot of support. My family encouraged any creative endeavor I set my mind to, and my teachers gave me the information I needed to enter the world of professional writing, revisions, submissions and publishing. Not everyone gets this support. And among those who don't, sure, some keep writing anyway--and a lot don't.

A lot hear "Writing is selfish, self-indugent," or in the words of Miller, "Writing is narcissitic." And they learn from it. They learn that it's shameful to take time for creative pursuits. It's wasted resources.

A lot hear, "Are you busy? You're not busy, you're just writing. Put down that pen and run this errand for me." And they learn that writing is not a valid use of one's time. They learn that it isn't OK to protect your writing time; again, it's selfish. In fact, insisting on protecting time in your day for your own pursuits, whatever they are, is selfish, "narcissistic," declaring personal creative time inviolate is no better than declaring yourself uninterruptible when playing Nintendo.

And Miller is perpetrating these insidious lessons. Re-read her article. Oh, she says here, "It's not like I'm saying writers are bad people!" but what effect, exactly, did she expect that whole "narcissistic commerce of writing/selfless art of reading" dichotomy to have? Shame on you, Miller, for setting that up in the first place, and heaps of shame on you for refusing to own your words. I cannot believe you wrote that without being aware of how these words portray writers as sinners and readers as saints. You're too good a writer to not be aware of your words' effect.

Because of NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program, hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers are given access to an encouraging environment. Even if everyone at home says "That's nice, but what do you really want to be when you grow up?" and "Why don't you go into medical school instead? Doctors make money," there is this entire international community supported by the Office of Letters and Light to tell them this is worthwhile. Your dreams are worth your perseverance. If writing is what you love, you should write. And we're with you.

Because so many people don't get that support anywhere else, and because we all need a little support from time to time (and those of you who think you don't are probably unaware of all the support you actually are benefitting from), these creative writing programs and the communities surrounding them are necessary things.

Check your privilege at the door and pick up some compassion on your way in.

One more tidbit:

Even a well-supported (financially, educationally, emotionally) aspiring writer may be placing limitations on herself which something like NaNoWriMo can bust wide open.

All though my teen and college years, I was convinced I was exclusively a short story writer. "I just don't think in novel-length stories," I'd say. In my head, "novelist" was a category, like "pilot," to which I had never belonged and never would belong. Novelists were other people.

Then, in 2002, someone told me about NaNoWriMo. And I decided to give it a try. What the heck, right?

My first NaNoWrimo... was kind of like watching that little Cessna landing at the Boulder Municipal Airport, and looking at the "Learn To Fly Here" sign, and feeling the little switch in my head flip from "Pilots are other people" to "Hey, *I* could do that!"

For about a year, every plot I was imagining was novel length, and ever short story I started writing turned out to be Chapter 1. All those novel ideas I had denied myself all those years because "I just don't think in novels" were just popping out of my head.

I am a much more well-rounded writer now, because of NaNoWriMo. Also, I have *more than* eight novel drafts on my writing backup disks (I started writing novels off-season), all in different stages of editing and revision. (In addition to the ongoing short story writing.) And each year I do NaNo I think I get better at writing that first draft, which I hadn't realized was something a person could improve at.

So there you go. NaNoWriMo taught me to stop placing limits on myself. I can't be the only one. Just for that alone, it would be worthwhile.

To the complaints that NaNo produces crap, Hemingway said it best: "The first draft of anything is crap."

Complaints about unskilled laborers writing more crap have been around since the invention of the typewriter, at least. Similar howls greeted word processors and personal computers. Live with it or change professions.

NaNo encourages writers to do the most important thing they can do: put their butts in their seats an WRITE. By setting a specific goal and a specific time to accomplish it, it provides a quantifiable result.

Ms. Kellogg has neatly rebutted the points raised by Ms. Miller and done so with humor. I enjoy NaNo, and was proud to finally win last year. I'm sorry that Ms. Miller views my efforts and those of my fellows with such distaste, but it does not bother me.

She works for a publication that calls itself 'Salon', in homage, one assumes, to the important literary and cultural circles of the past. An unnecessarily precious conceit. Personally, I find 'literary fiction' fairly boring, self-important books where everybody suffers.

I haunt the NaNo forums even in the 'off-season' because there is a lot of good info available that I don't have the time to absorb when I'm actually in the hunt. Perhaps Ms. Miller might find some useful writing advice as well.

Thanks for writing this. I love NaNoWriMo, and although I have no hope of ever being published, or honestly even a real desire to be, I always look forward to my November of frantic novel-writing. Miller's article struck me as elitist in the extreme. It's nice to see a well-thought out rebuttal to it.

Agree in full! In fact, one of the authors on my group NaNo blog had the exact same reaction:

http://writing.marcuscarab.com/2010/11/03/nanowrimo-criticism-misses-the-point/

As he described his first NaNo experience:

"The point is that taking part in NaNoWriMo gave me the confidence that I could, in fact, write a novel. I understand that it will take a lot more work than I have so far put into writing to produce something that people might want to pay money for. But now I know that, if I put my mind to it, I can do that work. I didn’t know that before."

This is my first year doing NaNo, after having watched multiple friends participate year after year. One of my friends just sent my husband and I a copy of her first three books that were published. Did they win any awards? No, but they do take a place of honor on our book cases, right next to our Folio Collection books, and other books that we have gotten signed by the author.

I am taking part in NaNo because I have always had stories playing in my head, stories fueled by all the books I have read (130 this year alone, give or take). Will I "inflict my writing on others" or try to get my NaNo story published? Probably not. But the fact that I have 167,150 other people out there cheering me on helps give me the courage to try to get it written.

When did 'reading' and 'writing' become mutually exclusive?

I do NaNoWriMo for the same reason I write the rest of the year - because ever since I was a kid, making up and writing down stories has brought me great joy. I can't understand why others can't understand that not everyone dreams of being published.

Thank you for writing this. I could add in my two cents but I'm pretty sure you covered it all!

Carolyn,

Thank you for this.

Mr. Martin,

In the comments, I disagree with your take on the reader/writer ecosystem. As Carolyn pointed out, most writers are readers. At least the successful ones. And, as most readers (like myself) read much more than a single book, it takes many writers to sustain my habit. Based on Ms. Miller's article (because all writers write crap), we wouldn't have a Guy Gavriel Kay or a Robert Jordan. We wouldn't have a Shakespeare or a Poe. We wouldn't have Austen or L.M. Montgomery. And we wouldn't have Gaiman or Grafton.

Which of these, among the thousands and thousands of published writers would you eliminate? On what basis?

As it takes more than one vegetable plant to feed a single person, it takes more than one author to feed a reader.

The ecosystem is changing, indeed, but it is not dying. And Nanowrimo does so much more than help people write 50k in a month.

Which brings me to Ms. Miller.

I love how you have so not done your due diligence. You imply that the financial resources of Nano are squandered. Yet, all you have to do mouse over the bar graph on the home page to see how exactly those funds are used. Pitiful.

Even worse is your refusal to own your own words. Even the title of your piece specifically discourages ANYONE from doing Nano. Sorry, you can't backpedal now. It doesn't work.

I have much more to say, but I'm choosing to spend that creative energy on my Nano novel.

Thank you.

I have been responding to that article since people first started sending it to me, now I will just link them here.

D7

Great rebuttal. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and I am doing NaNo for the second time.

I'm just shocked at why Miller cites NaNoWriMo as the cause behind the lack of readers in America. Not... say... our failing education system that is producing a mass of illiterate (or very nearly) children, poverty that keeps families and children in neighborhoods with bad education and make it simply impossible for them to buy books, and the internet and eBook that many people say are causing the fall of libraries (referencing back to the poor and growing inability to attain books for free).

Personally, I think those are a few much more reasonable, logical, and realistic reasons why we are lacking readers today. On the grand scheme of things, NaNoWriMo is not the problem.

Furthermore, I am boggled by Miller's "lump everybody together" mindset. That's the frame of mind that make racism and hate such dangerous things in our country.

Miller should take her own advice and just stop writing.

I am a voracious reader, a NaNo participant, and the opposite of narcissistic. I'm also a knitter, and by golly, I WILL knit another scarf!!!

In regards to whether Wrimos are readers:

Chris Baty's book; No Plot, No Problem, has a strategy for what we Wrimos should do to keep on target with our novels. He has us make two lists (our Magna Cartas I and II). In the Magna Carta I, we are to list all the tropes or characteristics that we like to read (i.e. for me that would be: Comedy, True Love, Detailed Settings, underlying motifs, etc). In Magna Carta II we are to list the sorts of things that turn us off of the novels we read (i.e. for me: Angst, Stream of Conciousness, Hijinx, Vapid Villains, etc.) Now Chris reminds us to keep these lists nearby (framed, if possible) as we write. His premise is that if you like to read it, you'll most likely like to write it (as well as having a story built around a readership). But the only way for this idea to work is if you start with the initial conceit that wrimos are readers!

This is my second year for nanowrimo, and this year I actually did make my magna cartas. I can tell you that these lists are definately keeping me in mind of what makes my favorite novels great, and it keeps me going on the path to writing something on par with them.

And I just want to say, I'm a Wrimo, and I have read over 60 full length novels this year (some of which were 800 pages long). So there, Ms Miller.

Maybe the reason fewer people are reading books is because the kinds of people Laura Miller wants writing books are, in fact, writing most of the books.

She must also hate little league baseball and Pop Warner football, high-school debate teams, and science fairs. Either that, or she really believes that graceful and insightful prose flows directly, and exclusively, from the pens of those worthy of holding them, and that writers write, no matter what, because their class-consciousness demands it.

What the world really needs fewer of is establishment columnists writing for venture-capped pseudo-blogs.

Excellent Response Carolyn!

Maybe Miller should take her own advice and stop writing! I have a boatload of books that could keep her reading and not writing for a long time. Her argument is beyond silliness and doesn't warrant a response.

Maybe she wrote it because she knew of NanoWriMos popularity? It apparently got her quite a bit of visibility.

I wrote 50,000 words two years ago and it was a great experience for me. I didn't edit or re-write; but that's my responsibility, not NanoWriMo's.


As others have said before me and others will say after me, THANK YOU! This is exactly what I wanted to say to Ms. Miller, but couldn't get over my anger enough to think out. I just do not understand why she, a writer herself, would be so anti-writing. Is she so self-centered as to think that she is one of a priveleged few allowed to write or something? And I just do not understand the "writers are not readers" thing. I've been reading since I was 3 years old, chapter books since I was 4. I read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Lord of the Rings, and Animal Farm in sixth grade. I've read (on my own and with great enjoyment) a number of Shakespeare's plays, some Greek plays, the Iliad, Beowulf (one of my favorite pieces of literature ever), the complete Bible (the Protestant one, anyway ;)), technical nonfiction, and a great deal of other classics. And yes, I also do NaNoWriMo. Is that really a paradox?

As others have said before me and others will say after me, THANK YOU! This is exactly what I wanted to say to Ms. Miller, but couldn't get over my anger enough to think out. I just do not understand why she, a writer herself, would be so anti-writing. Is she so self-centered as to think that she is one of a priveleged few allowed to write or something? And I just do not understand the "writers are not readers" thing. I've been reading since I was 3 years old, chapter books since I was 4. I read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Lord of the Rings, and Animal Farm in sixth grade. I've read (on my own and with great enjoyment) a number of Shakespeare's plays, some Greek plays, the Iliad, Beowulf (one of my favorite pieces of literature ever), the complete Bible (the Protestant one, anyway ;)), technical nonfiction, and a great deal of other classics. And yes, I also do NaNoWriMo. Is that really a paradox?

Thank you! I'm doing NaNo for the first time this year and it's so easy to get bogged down in the negativity. Your article gave me the perfect boost for a weekend of productive NaNo writing! Only 40K words to go!

I was bummed when I read Miller's article so thank you for this counter-argument.

I am a 2nd time participant this year. I am not participating with the idea that I am going to get published. I am doing it because I want to see if I can do it: Start a story at 0 words on Nov 1st and have a completed story of at least 50,000 by Nov 30.

Like many who participate, I won't be sending it in to a publisher. It is just a personal challenge for me. I suppose I see it as running a marathon of sorts and it isn't where you place, but whether or not you finish.

Same concept, except with writing. Some runners (writers) will place higher because of their skill and goals, but others, like me, just want to participate and enjoy the action of writing and the benefits it provides to us.

For me, my story will most likely stay on fictionpress where someone may wander in to read a chapter or two. It'll go no farther and Miller won't have to worry about me taking up the time of some publisher. She won't know it even exists.

But I will and I'll be proud that I met the challenge.

As for reading? Doesn't Ms Miller know that most writers, even the wannabes like me, are readers first and foremost. And when I write, I appreciate the books I read even more because I know the effort that goes into it.

Thank you for this article. This is my 2nd year participating in NaNoWriMo and I can honestly say that much if not ALL of my imagination for stories can be attributed to the hundreds of books I have read in my life.

Not a day goes by when I don't read some kind of book, regardless of the genre. I just happen to enjoy writing my own fictional stories; it doesn't bother me one iota if I should get published or not.

Whether it be writing or another hobby, don't ever listen to those who tell you no! It's your life and YOU choose how to spend it!

Thank you so much for this.
I simply can't understand why anyone would make the effort to discourage people from writing. Many just do it for fun - of course, there's always hope to publish something and have it become a bestseller, but can't one hope?

I'm 17 and I don't think my novel will even be published, I simply write it because I like writing. Maybe my friends will want to read it when it's finished and if they do, if they like it, it will be enough. If they don't, I can at least say I have done something more useful than some of my class mates who play computergames endlessly or something like that.
I simply like the feeling of having created something. What's to hate there?

Carolyn, thank you so much for posting this. It's nice to know we NaNo's have someone on our side!

Ok for all of those who anti-Nano people I have a question for all of you.

Why bother coming here and read?

Tell me why? If you don't want to write no one is forcing you to. But why come and trash someone's work? Do you ever take off your time to go to places like Fictionpress.com or even other writing sites? I don't know how many of us who are in these other sites goes to Nano as a first stop in november. We either edit or not our story and post them up on those sites. You think that half of us don't know the word critique means?

When I wrote back at 1998 there was no nano and my story looked like an elementary student trying to write. Grammar mistakes and errors up the wall. I had no help at all. But that stop me from trying to write a novel, no. I kept trying. I don't know where your college teachers told you those stuff saying it is better to read. We first have to learn the fundamental of the language by speaking. Then learn how to write before we read. How many of you guys ever read a language that you don't even know?

Heck that just ignorant of all of you anti-nano. English may not be the first language I know but I do know that there are over 6Million people in this country and there are very few in the population that has English as a second language. Whether you came from China, Japan, Mexico, Ireland, Scotland, or whatever country before never start learning english by reading. They start with writing. Writing helps to build reading.

If I can improve my grammar just by writing out, then anyone can try.

I definitely agree. Who is she to judge us? Who is she to tell us that we don't read, for crying out loud? She should have a look at my 5000+ bookcase, which ranges from Dickins to Douglas Adams, Heidi to Harry Potter, and then she can make judgements on my reading habits. What if J. K. Rowling had decided, 'No, there are enough books out there. Mine won't make a difference, so I won't bother." There would be hundreds of thousands of kids who never got into reading. Every book - written well or not - is a treasure. Ms. Laura Miller should appreciate the beauty that NaNo plays a big part in creating.

I, madam, applaud you on the fabulous deconstruction of that article. It is a very flawed assumption Ms. Miller made and I am glad you pointed it out. I am a first time participant in NaNoWriMo and I have to say, it is really helping me crank out some rather interesting sentences. I know, no doubt, I will go back and edit, but for now all I am trying to do is write for the sake of writing. If I finish, I believe after much editing and rewriting that it might be finally good enough to send off. And even then, I'll probably tweak some more.

And I'm rambling. Anyway, thank you very much for this. I love it a lot.

What I find the most amusing is the fact that people (not you, since you write this awesome article) think that writing 50,000 words in a month is writing fast. It's under 2000 words a day. That's not that many words and it isn't that hard to write that many words a day DECENTLY, especially if you actually practice writing until you can write fairly decently in your first draft.

The whole idea that you have to write slow and revise for years really makes no real sense. If you can't write well the first time, then how will you be able to revise it into something better? If you aren't willing to practice writing first drafts of crap, then you'll never get to the point when you can write first drafts that are a solid foundation.

People have to start somewhere and there's nothing wrong with a hobbyist class of writers. Writing isn't a magical wand only to be held by the best and the brightest literary minds. It's a skill that can be used for fun, art, profit, or both, depending on who happens to be behind the words. Some people have to work harder to get where others can simply take a few steps. That doesn't mean that only those who learn a task easier than others have the right to learn the task at all.

And writing is like any other skill. Some people can write well fast, some people can write well slow, and some people can write well somewhere in the middle of the two poles. Saying that anything written fast is crap and everything written slow is gold is the same as saying that everyone is on the same level in ability, that there is no genius or struggle, that the child in the back of the class with dyslexia is just lazy, while the child in the back of the class who learned the lesson in a day is just a liar, because no one can learn that fast.

Everyone deserves a chance to learn, no matter if they have to work harder, don't have to work as hard, or work just as hard as the majority of their peers. And everyone deserves the chance to create and learn any skill, even if they will never be the best. If only the best were allowed to perform, only Einstein would be allowed to do math and all those CPAs and money counting clerks should just give up. Then again, Einstein wouldn't be allowed to do math either, because the idea basically says that no one can have the ability to understand mathematics like he did and shouldn't have the chance to find out if they, in fact, do.

Oh, and thanks for this article. It's nice to know that not everyone has an allergy to true learning in all its forms.

Wow how vicious can a person (Miller) get? Sounds like someone who is afraid of the new competition :) !! To me it seem there is enough to go afround for everyone, since there are still firt time authors that sell over a million copies. Let's abandon that scarcity mentality, and embrace abundance...

Thanks for writing this. I don't understand the angst. Seems silly to me in light of the real issues in the world.

Thank you for your sound rebuttal of Laura Miller's mean-hearted article.

As any educationalist knows, the way into reading is, initially, through personalised writing. (All Diarist started with their Weekend News.)

Libraries and bookstores know that to be vibrantly full, rather than dustily neglected, they need to be a hub of literature. Literature is reading borne of writing.

Thank you! Writing can be a place, a sanctuary where the writer has the possibility to realize, encounter, discover, connect with all the profoundly humane things we are distracted from day after day. It can be monastic in the most generous, least narcissistic way. It can be a life-bringing place to be. My father was a major college basketball coach. He once said to the press,
"I love this game. I wish those thousands who come to watch us play would sometimes think about staying home and playing a pick-up game in the driveway."

Thank you So MUCH for this! I'm doing NaNoWriMo for my third year, and the reason I do it is because I love writing. I hardly find the time or motivation the rest of the year, but when I'm part of a group it's so much easier to get going and finally use my creative abilities. Miller's article has cause a stir in the NaNoWriMo community; people can't believe just how small minded and ridiculous her article is. The people who look down on NaNoWriMo are one of the main reasons writers get discouraged. It's heartening to read an article like this. Thank you for backing us up and knowing we're not some crazy idiots trying to destroy the sanctity of writing- we're authors, at least for one month, and we love what we do!

Thank you for writing this. This is my first year in NaNoWriMo and I made the mistake of reading Miller's story as I started my novel. I almost wanted to quit then and there. Thank you for the support.

Clearly, NaNoWritMo encourages revision; why blame them for those that don't do it?"

Because it's not called National DRAFT Writing Month.
Because it's encouraging developmentally warped people to think their adored fecal narcissism is "writing."
Because the degree of celebration is weird -- celebrating typing 50,000 random words as some sort of personal triumph is weird, and mentally dangerous and spiritually dangerous and very, very depressing.
Because the MAJORITY of NaNoWriMos don't get their they're will NOT be novelists after typing 50,000 random words. Read their message boards; those egotists are sick, sick people.
Because NaNo claims that "winners" are "novelists" and THEY'RE NOT KIDDING.

Miller is right. Andrew Keen is right. Allen Bloom is right.

NoNoWriMo is a war against books and writers. It was created to make failed wannabes feel better about themselves by lowering the bar. Instead of working harder at the craft or moving on to something they could do well, they decided to simply lower the bar and call themselves "writers" even though they're not. (The only "book" a NaNo creator has put out is one vague booklet of "writing" advice.) At this point, that bar's going to hit the earth's mantle any minute now.

Sophia said, "Thank you for writing this. This is my first year in NaNoWriMo and I made the mistake of reading Miller's story as I started my novel. I almost wanted to quit then and there. Thank you for the support."

Sophia, give up. You're not a writer. If you think one article on one website is too damaging to your fragile self, you'll never make it through even one round of corrections with a professional editor, not to mention having to "kill your darlings" in the revision process, or having to go through years of submissions and queries in order to find professional publishing or representation. If you need NaNoWriMo as a crutch to keep "writing" you're simply not psychologically strong enough to LEARN how to write anything that other people will want or need to read. This is not your medium. Go find something where you can weather the storm of evaluation and criticism and rejection -- and the need to work for months/years on a project with no adulation from anyone else -- without dissolving into mush. (And, if you're now going to claim you're "just writing for yourself," then you're writing a diary, not a novel. They don't call it "National Diary Writing Month" either. )

Novels are not first drafts. Novels are not diaries. NaNoWriMo has nothing to do with writing novels.

I would just like to point out that, as the writer of this article mentioned, not all Nano participants actually finish. In fact the majority of them get stuck, get unmotivated, get distracted, or just plain figure out that they don't actually like writing and don't try again.

I would like to hypothesize that, one, this failed attempt keeps a lot of bad writers from trying again and creating lots of "bad books," and two, the writers who fail at Nano after a few days (I know of many) are probably those same writers who don't read. After all, they don't know how to format a story and they don't have the patience to stick with it, as readers do. I would argue that those of us finishing novels are the ones who actually have some basis to go on: reading other novels!

By the way this is my fourth year succeeding at Nano and I would like to say that I have spent all four years editing my first novel and the better part of the last two years slowly editing my second novel. I have also never met another nano winner that doesn't read like mad.

Hooray! I've always been told I'm a good writer, even if I don't believe it myself. I'll probably never publish a novel (meaning I probably won't even try) but I've done it. I wrote 50,000 words within a specified deadline. It took me five years but I did it. And I'm attempting again this year.

And if anyone doesn't like it, they can kiss my you-know-what.

Thanks for the inspiration :)

 
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