“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 Salon.com.
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?