Monday, November 8, 2010

NaNo Gets Panned

“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.” – Laura Miller

It’s NaNo time again. For you non-writers that stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It’s been an event since 1999, but I’ve never participated. I think it is a lofty goal and I’d love to write a book in a month, but I have plenty of excuses—such as frenetic writing isn’t my style or it takes place in the busy month of November. However, it most likely boils down to fear of commitment. Or maybe it’s fear of failure.

It’s become a popular thing to do. According to the official NaNo site, the first year there were 21 participants with 6 winners (those who met the goal), in 2009 there were 167,150 participants with 32,178 winners.

My reasons for not participating are based on personal shortcomings and have nothing to do with the actual event. In fact, I respect those who sign up, whether they succeed or not. However, Laura Miller has a different opinion which she voiced in her article “Better yet, DON'T write that novel, Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy,” on

Of a sign offering a refuge for NaNo writers in a bookstore, she says, “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.”

As she is also a writer, I was surprised at her level of hostility toward the event and participants. She says:

“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 (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species. They don't make a big stink about how underappreciated they are; like Tinkerbell or any other disbelieved-in fairy, they just fade away.”

It seems she thinks these contestants will not edit their work and will force people to read their unrevised “crap.” While instances of this may occur, I think the majority of writers realize revision, revision, and more revision are the most important steps in the writing process.

I also gathered from her article that she thinks the majority of writers are not readers. I have no statistics to prove her wrong, but I believe authors who don’t read are a tiny minority.

While I agree with Laura that we should celebrate the reader, I do think writers deserve some credit, too. After all, what would readers read if there were no writers?

I admit I have read a few poorly written books, but that number is far outweighed by the good ones. Some are written by well-known authors and others by little-known (but no less talented) writers I had the luck to stumble across. Whether their manuscripts were developed in thirty days or thirty years doesn’t diminish their work. As Laura points out, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, started out as a NaNo challenge.

I say, go NaNoers! Who knows what masterpiece may be unleashed this year.

You can read Laura Miller’s article here.

What are your feelings toward NaNo? Do you participate? Do you feel it’s a waste of time? Have you published a book that was written as part of the NaNo challenge? Writers—are you also readers?

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope to see you again next week.

Tags: NaNo, Laura Miller, National Novel Writing Month, Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen,


Old Kitty said...
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Old Kitty said...
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Old Kitty said...

I'm not participating in nano and probably never will as I don't have the temperament to do so!

I will say about those doing nano -increasingly their blogging is devoted to nano and nano-ers so I tend to feel a little left out. And my comments tend to be the same as in" good luck with the nano" because I don't really know what else to say!

Yet I feel that the participants are having a thoroughly great time!!

I appreciate Ms Miller's article but I think she's taking this far too seriously than the nano-ers do. With such a big number of participants of course you will get the odd minority who think that their nano novel without editing and revision is good enough for submission. Of course you would - that's just the nature of a big group - the overall consesus may be sound and intelligent but there will always be detractors!

That's why there is such a thing as a submission process in the first place.

Also, if these nano-ers who think they have a polished novel after 30days' writing try self-publishing I think people who love good books will know soon enough.

Readers. Writers. The two are not mutually exclusive. Even those who blog and say they are not writers are writers!!! If your read a paper and write to the paper in the letters page then you are both!.

I think if you participate in nano - good luck to you - have fun, enjoy, learn, make friends, write!! It's all good. And if you are of the Ms Miller camp - then, you know, chill. Credit writers and readers (who may even reside in the same body!) a little bit of intelligence. It's one month of the year a person's inner writer can flex their muscles. The person's inner reader may do this 11 months of the year!

thank you so much Jane for a brill post. I think my head is hurting from all this thinking and reasoning! Further reasons why I don't think I'm nano material. I'm exhausted just writing this comment! LOL!
Take care

Old Kitty said...

I'm so sorry - my hummungous comment appeared 3x. oops. sorry!

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife did NaNoWriMo one year and made the target. I have yet to see the finished product and I don’t ever expect to. It is possible to get the guts of a novel written in a month. It’s going back a while but I don’t think either of my first two novels took me more than a month to finish the first drafts. I then spent five years polishing them.

I’m not entirely anti-NaNoWriMo but it’s not for me. I don’t think those first two books of mine were flukes as such simply that the time was right. You write when the time is right. If I got an idea for something just now I would literally stop this sentence here and go off and write until the words stopped; I tend to write in clumps anyway. If I wanted to say something to the novelists this month it would be, “A novel is for life, not just November.” It takes more than a month to write a novel. Even now only a fraction of my time is spent in writing compared to editing/re-writing. I’m 35,000 words into my current novel. My target is 40,000 by the end of the year which will bring me to the end of the story. I’ll then spend as much time as it takes but probably a good year grafting in bits, fleshing it out until it gets to about 50,000 words which is about the right for me. Then I’ll put it away and work on other stuff for a while until I’ve forgotten most of it and can pick it up with fresh eyes.

So I wish all those who are having a crack at it this year good luck. Just don’t think you’ve written a novel by the end of it no matter how many words you’ve churned out.

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm a NaNoer, and I know I read a ton of books! It does seem that Miller's statements are a little harsh, since I find that NaNo can be more that just "writing a lot of crap"--even if there is more junk that good stuff, at least you have the satisfaction of having written!

Anonymous said...

This is my first year doing NaNoWriMo. I don't expect to get a novel that is saleable, without LOTS of work afterwards. I decided to do NaNo as a challenge to myself. I wanted to see if I could sit down and be disaplined enough to write 50,000 words in a month or not. Whether I meet the goal or not, I will consider myself a winner just for trying. How will I ever know if I don't try?

Laura Eno said...

I participated last year (and won) but it doesn't work for me. Regardless, I cheer on anybody who gives it a go. Laura Miller's article was a slap in the face to every writer out there. I'm sorry she feels there are already enough books in the world. What a small-minded person.

Darcia Helle said...

First, I have to ask, whose idea was it to use November as the chosen month for a writing frenzy? Why not February or March, when the holidays aren't looming ever closer and family isn't piling into our homes?

I've never participated in NaNo and never will. The very idea of a forced word count goal takes away my creativity and threatens major anxiety attacks. I write because I love to, not because I'm forced to.

I do know of a few authors who started out that way. (Craig Lancaster's book 600 Hours of Edward - well worth reading!) But they used it as a springboard into the writing world. Some people thrive on those deadlines and forced goals. I'm not one of them.

Joanne said...

I don't participate in NaNo, but respect the decision of writers who do. There are a host of different reasons for participating, and each writer has their reason. I don't mind being a NaNo cheerleader and encouraging the craft, however it comes about. And Laura's hostility makes me think she has some other problem with writing, and the frustration is coming out in this piece maybe?

Jan Morrison said...

I successfully did a novel last november for nano BUT it will take me a long time to get it up to par for sure. This year I'm taking the form and using it to revise a novel that I wrote the old fashioned way. It is just another little trick to keep us going and I like that aspect. I can understand Miller's rant to a degree BUT is she not a writer? I would ask her - why does she think her opinion is worth the space in a newspaper? I mean, really, shouldn't op ed writers be the first to hang up their quill pens? I get a wee bit tired listening to op ed writers opine about the great unwashed 'other' - why don't they turn their beady little eyes and their pointy little fingers back on themselves once in awhile? Just wondering...

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I was do disappointed to read Laura Miller's article last night -- being on a committed schedule is what writers struggle with, and this month-long exercise is always a valuable investment in their long term goal. Not to mention -- it's a challenge, and it's fun, and it builds a writing community and gets people interested in writing and reading! Snarky articles like hers just were so disappointing.

Michelle @ The True Book Addict said...

I was signed up and planned on doing it this year since I'm no longer in school, but I decided three days in that I had to bow out. My life is just way too hectic right now, even without school. I can't imagine how bad it would be if I was in school...ugh! And like you, I'm beginning to think that I have personal shortcomings that just do not fit with NaNo! Regarding Miller's article, I totally disagree with her. A good majority of the readers I know are writers too. I don't think that too many writers is a danger to reading. There are just too many people in this world that do not see the value of reading. It's a shame.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Whoa - that's an awful lot of hostility being aimed at something that's strickly voluntary.

I'd like to try doing a NaNo someday. It's a little like running a race (5K, marathon, whatever) when you know you can't possibily come in first but it's fun to challenge yourself just to finish and enjoy the support of the other runners and the encouragement of the crowd.

Would participating in a Nano make me stop reading? Don't be silly.

But I do agree with Darcia's comment on the choice of months. Why November (Thanksgiving, month before Christmas, etc.)?

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I've never participated, in part because my schedule is already stretched in November. Yes, there will be a slew of unedited manuscripts sent out in December. Those people will learn the hard way. But there will be a lot of writers who revise and send out next spring because they focused on writing for one month.
I say, let 'em write in peace!

Carol Kilgore said...

I blogged about NaNo last week. I don't think I'll ever participate, but I do wish for a great writing experience for those who do.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

As far as I'm concerned, participating in NaNo isn't stupid, but thinking one month is going to be enough time to create a polished novel IS. Yes, I am participating (for the first time) this year. I just wanted to see if I had the self-discipline to do it. If the kernel of something worthwhile emerges, then more power to me. If it doesn't, then at least I'll have learned what it takes to crank out that many words in a short period of time.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Guess it depends how one approaches NaNo. After spending so much time blogging to promote my book, I'm usuing NaNo as an excuse to funnel that time into writing instead. I'm not breaking any records, either. Everything I type is deliberate. That and I type slow!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Old Kitty, I had to laugh at the reason you think you’re not Nano material. I’m glad you brought up the point that the participants seem to be having a thoroughly great time and don’t take themselves too seriously. No problem about the extra comments, sometimes Blogger seems to have a mind of its own.

Jim, what a great quote - “A novel is for life, not just November.” I do think most serious writers realize that more time goes into polishing a manuscript then writing that first draft.

The Golden Eagle, I think Ms Miller took a few exceptions and made them sound like the majority. Getting satisfaction from writing IS what it’s all about.

Susanne, I so admire you for trying. Good luck!

Laura, congratulations on a win! Are you working on the manuscript you wrote or did it end up in a drawer? Maybe Laura was just having a bad day.

Darcia, I learned from Nancy Parra’s blog, This Writer’s Life, that the first event was held in July. They changed it to November to “November to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather." I am also one of those who doesn’t thrive on imposed word counts and goals. This is the link to Nancy's post -

Joanne, I like the idea of being a cheerleader, too. As I mentioned to Laura, maybe Linda was having a bad day when she wrote the article.

Jan, good, well-said point! And congratulations for a successful Nano finish last year. It’ll be interesting to see how many more years it takes to whip it into shape. Good luck with your revision this year.

Coffee and a Book Chick, your pros as to why people participate in Nano far outweigh Laura’s cons.

Michelle, with all the books you read, I don’t see how you have any time for anything else! I think it’s good to try something new, even if you have to drop out, just to say you tried and found it wasn’t for you. I am always shocked when I run across someone who doesn’t read books. I can’t imagine a life without them.

Lizzie, I like your analogy. That’s another excellent point. And, read my reply to Darcia for the reason it’s held in November.

Diane, I think those folks who send out unedited manuscripts are not serious writers.

Carol, I got behind in my blog visits last week. I’ll stop by and catch up on the ones I missed later. Thanks for letting me know.

Elspeth, I think doing it for the discipline of writing everyday is a very good reason to participate. I know I could certainly use more structure and discipline in my writing day. Good luck!

Alex, another good reason for participating! Promotion does take up a lot of time that used to be for writing.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...
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Jane Kennedy Sutton said...
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Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Old Kitty, Blogger just published my long comment 3 times, too! Weird.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Wow! She definitely had a little hostility there, didn't she?

Writers absolutely HAVE to be persistent? Otherwise there would be no books on the shelves--why would we put up with the harsh critiques, the long hours, the endless industry research, the rejection, the bad reviews?

I never can officially join NaNo because I'm always in the middle of something else. But I love to lurk there and feed off the energy. It's very inspiring!

Hart Johnson said...

I totally get that different writers have different styles, and so would never criticize anyone who WASN'T participating, but I just find it disheartening that a writer would discourage people from writing. I don't think as part of the class 'writers' that is the karma I'd want coming back at me.

I have written slow (first novel took 2+ years) and I have written fast (2 WriMos, plus a 6 weeker with no WriMo) and I honestly think writing fast then fixing results in a better product for me. When I write slow, I allow tangents to the plot and have no 'spare words' to elegantly make connections later--I am cutting fat I am attached to with no leeway to enhance...

Besides that, I LOVE the comaraderie and the adrenaline... PLUS, I have so much editing, and a few writing COMMITMENTS--it is nice to know once a year (well twice... my writer's group likes doing it in June, too) I can dive into something of my choice, totally fresh.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I didn't know "Water for Elephants" was born during NaNo. In that case, I firmly believe NaNoWriMo is all good, because I loved that novel.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I just loved your post, Jane.
It is obvious you do not agree with what she says, but you gave her enough air time on your blog to convince us if she could. That she couldn't is another thing.
I signed up for NaNo last year, and may or may not do so again. But the reasons have more to do with whether or not I think I write my best under pressure, not about whether I should be writing at all.
I quite disagree with the definitions of selfless act or reading and commercial act of writing. I personally do not know of many writers who are not readers, and when you know how difficult the journey towards publication can be, writing is not exactly a commercial act.

Helen Ginger said...

I haven't participated in NaNo, but more power to those who do, I say. I think of it as a time when writers push themselves to reach a common goal. Most writers know that any book written in a month is going to need much revision and editing. I say, go for it and have fun!

Karen Walker said...

I don't participate and never will. I don't think there is anything wrong with the concept, it's just not my idea of a good time.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Elizabeth, you brought up some excellent questions that I’m sure Laura didn’t think about. I agree that visiting sites of those participating can be inspiring.

Hart, most writers I know do everything they can to encourage new and wannabe writers. I definitely see some pluses in writing fast. I’m impressed that you participate in such an event twice a year.

Patricia, I haven’t read the book yet, but it is on my list and I’ve only heard good things about it.

Thanks, Rayna. I think it’s a good point that writing is not exactly a commercial act, at least for most of us.

Helen, it does sound like the participants have fun with it.

Karen, it’s obviously not for everybody (including me), but it’s someone’s idea of a good time with over 167,000 people signing up.

Bob Sanchez said...

For me, NaNo is NoNo. Nothing wrong with it, but NanoWriMo is for people willing to glue themselves to a chair and focus on only one project. If it works for you, great. It can be a good motivator to write, just as my old writers group motivated me to write. Now I don't know all the thinking behind it, but I imagine it to be an exercise merely to get writers fired up about their work and not to produce anything like a finished work. For me, there is just too much else going on. For you, if you do it, you have my admiration.

DazyDayWriter said...

Interesting perspectives. Since I'm not a novelist (but admire writers who are), I don't have to think about this too hard or too long, however, I can see merit in the concept. For one thing, it gets writers off square one, and at times, that is very important. Life has a way of creating obstacles and if a 30 day window leads to something amazing, hey, go for it!
Daisy @ SunnyRoomStudio (always soaking up the rays!)

RaShelle said...

Hi Jane - This is my second year participating in NaNo. I wrote over 50k in 09' & I'm sure I will this year, too. Last year's WIP still needs lots of revision. I stopped because a previously completed novel was picked up for publication and I'm in the process of final edits on that.

Each person is different, so of course it won't be for everyone, and that's okay.

This year I haven't spent as much time on the site, but the goal of completing a WIP I've had outlined for many, many months-- I need the kick in the pants something like NaNo provides. Silly, but true. I like the challenge. Great post. =D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this useful article.

The Old Silly said...

I think Nano can be good for certain writers - if you don't have the self-discipline or natural desire to write everyday and write a LOT all the time. But I'll never do it. I write every day anyway, and when I get in the blessed writer's zone - where my best stuff comes out, 3,000 words a day is kid's stuff. My last novel, Beware the Devil's Hug, the first draft was just under 90,000 words and was written in three weeks.

But again, that's me ... Nano IS good practice for lots of peeps, I would think.

Good post, Jane!

Marvin D Wilson

WritingNut said...

I'm participating this year for the first time. Actually, that's not true. I signed up last year, but I didn't write a single word.

I was just too busy, and too many things were getting in the way :(

So far, it's been going well--it may be complete garbage though - the true test will be the edits afterwards ;)

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world