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In Defense of NaNoWriMo

In Defense of NaNoWriMo

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An open letter to the guy who wrote this classist piece of self-gratification for The Economist:

I think your article is arrogant. You missed the real point. The point of NaNoWriMo is not that writing a novel is easy; NaNoWriMo merely points out that it is a skill, just like any other, that if you sat down and did the HARD work, you could learn. Because novel writing is a business that doesn’t often give you deadlines until you’ve broken into it, potential writers rarely complete the idea in their mind in draft. Editing a non-existent draft doesn’t really work.

NaNoWriMo isn’t here to tell people that you’ll have to cut and edit and rewrite and cry and rip out your hair and rewrite some more, because the first step is getting the draft. NaNoWriMo tells people to write, but offers advice and services for editing later. They don’t want writers to go publish the dreck. Plenty of established authors would never publish their first drafts, either.

NaNoWriMo exists to prove that writer’s block is a myth. If you don’t have time to be stuck, you’ll somehow make it through.

And no, I don’t expect everyone who starts it to become published. Like you said, only 1/5th actually finished it because many people realize that it is not for them or not within their willpower. But for those of us who can do it, it’s awesome. It’s an excuse for serious writers to bang out that first draft of that back-burner idea in 30 days instead of procrastinating.

You have turned writing into a classist thing, only worthy to those of high culture. In truth, people in almost any profession could benefit from becoming a better writer. Students’ academic papers can benefit from the practice of organizing thoughts on paper. People who learn the structure of story benefit as readers. 

You talk about NaNoWriMo like it’s an activity for the cattle, not worthy of being writers, to use to avoid their boring jobs. Clearly your high friends at The Economist must fear what happens if Americans stop being drones and start being creative in any way, shape, or form. As for your talk of self-publishing, you operate on the myth that every traditionally published author deserves their career as some divine right, when in all honesty it’s a small portion skill and experience, but mostly luck.

Being a career writer from a major publishing house with lots of established works does not entitle you to be read any more than the next guy (so long as he has a story to tell.) Case in point- Stephanie Meyer (8) vs Harper Lee (1). You only have to write one, but you have to write the first (even if it never sees the light of day).

Like I said above: NaNoWriMo is not here to prove that writing a novel is easy. Society already has that misconception. It’s here to prove that writers are hard workers. It is HARD. It is not merely a gift given by God that pours itself onto paper without any effort. “Real writers” should appreciate that message.

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  • Hear hear.

    I love your argument about NaNoWriMo providing a time and challenge for aspiring writers to learn about the craft–at least, the first part. Which, I imagine for independent writers along with “big six” writers, is simply putting words down on paper. It can teach that actually finishing a novel is a difficult thing to do, and that it may not be for everyone–then again, it may teach that actually planning, writing, and finishing a first draft (or a “draft zero” as I’ve seen it written) is easy for some. Perhaps that 1/5th of NaNoWriMo participants learn something new about their own skillset. Perhaps they learn that this whole writing thing isn’t as difficult as they thought it would be.

    But you never know until you try. And that’s one of the great things about NaNoWriMo: it gives the average person a chance to try. A reason to finally put their words down, as many of them as they can. Will all of those 1/5th of participants who actually finish be published and become famous? Probably not. Will all (even those who don’t finish) learn something new? Most assuredly. I know I have.

    • Exactly! The 1/5 who finish learn something. I think the 4/5 who don’t also learn something.

      • I agree. Everyone who actually participates learns something. It may not be what they wanted to learn, necessarily, but we can’t always get what we want. And we can’t all write 50,000 words in 30 days.

        There’s also an idea of not giving in when things look gloomy. I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice before this time, and neither of those times was successful. This time around I think I’ve learned how much easier it makes things when you’ve got a lot of planning and preparation, and how much determination it really takes to write so many words per day.

  • Excellent article. It’s very important to have channels through which up and comers in creative fields can gain experience and exposure. Be it books, music, films, comics, games or any other number of creative pursuits, stagnation is death, and the best way to avoid stagnation is to bring in new talent. Does democratization of media mean that we’ll be flooded with an influx of crap? One look around Youtube and the games channel on the iTunes store says yes. However, these media also facilitate the cream rising to the top through user reviews. If a novel written during NaNoWriMo is of quality, and the author puts the effort into getting exposure and feedback, than the world has another quality novel. If not, the book will fade into obscurity, but the author will gain experience in time management and written communication (two skill sets that will benefit anyone in life,) and have a stronger sense of what their own work ethic is. If you go into any massive project thinking it would be easy, there’s no better way to find out just how hard it can be than attempting it yourself.

    • I agree with your comments here, Sam. Especially with “Does democratization of media mean that we’ll be flooded with an influx of crap? One look around Youtube and the games channel on the iTunes store says yes.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. ^^

    • I read an article in reply to a bunch of trolls poo-pooing indie fiction on a blog that made this same point– user reviews will tell you if the work is crap. How about you read those reviews before you buy instead of complaining?

      As for your example about the iTunes store– PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES would never have happened in a traditional console market model.

      We live in a culture that values the integrity of indie musicians and indie films as real art and looks down on the studio system for the obvious mass commercialization of the medium. Yet the art of writing faces the opposite criticism. Why is this? Because people who write for The Economist likely have friends at the big six who are afraid that they might have to really look at what industry they are in and change the way they do business.

      Just like old ladies at Target screamed at me because we stopped carrying VHS, publishers are freaking out because change in the industry means that they will have to learn new things. Some people are afraid of that concept.