How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept NaNoWriMo

Six years ago, I wrote an article about hating National Novel Writing Month, and starting every October since, like clockwork, the hate comments come pouring into that post, as new NaNoWriMo participants stumble upon my article through Google or whatever and feel the need to add their own vitriol to the pile. I even wrote another article where I looked at things in more perspective, said I saw some value in NaNoWriMo, and linked to it at the bottom of the first, but that was almost completely ignored.

So what was my problem? Why would I want to be a hater? My problem wasn't speed-writing. I even praised 24-hour-comic day in my original article, and later mentioned the 3 day novel challenge. With NaNoWriMo, though, I basically felt like the website of the (still new) writing event sent the wrong message; that it encouraged writing as a self-help tool rather than an art form, and worried about its comparisons to running a marathon. Writing fiction, I believed, is something you should do because you love it, not because you see it as a form of therapy or because you have it on some bucket list. Also, I worried about fiction becoming like poetry-- almost only read by people who write it, and thus culturally irrelevant.

Since then, a number of successful authors have come out of the NaNoWriMo project, like Cat Valente and Erin Morgenstern, calling it valuable for them to get started. The fact is that with the rise of the Internet we're moving away from a culture where creators are on one side and audience is on the other, with huge, difficult to surmount barriers in between. The audience becomes creators and critics as well, consuming media and creating media become entangled and harder to separate. In other words, the future I feared is in fact coming to pass, but rather than spelling cultural irrelevancy, it's instead just what relevance looks like now.

If we're all creators, who cares if your motives aren't "pure", or if you're only going to do one, crappy novel and then give up? So what if your book is going to suck because you churned it out at top speed. Your first book would probably suck anyway even if you labored over it for five years (as I did with my first, sucky, unpublished book). I thought that NaNoWriMo was polluting the ecosystem, but it turns out the ecosystem has changed all on its own, and NaNoWriMo is just a small part of that larger story.

The notion of a nation of authors is a little scary, and it raises valid questions about how anyone can find an audience or make a living when the options are so vast and there's so much competition for people's time with other media. It's probably true that there's more people writing fiction than ever and it's never been more difficult to make a living as a writer of fiction. At the same time it's actually terribly exciting when you stop to think about all these people engaged in the craft of fiction, and maybe we'll find new avenues to support ourselves with new technology, leveraging fundraising platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo or trading in on the nascent gift economy. Who knows? But if there's one thing I've learned in my years on the Internet, it's that in the end you can't fight the future.

Comments

stay away from children:

stay away from children: http://www.wetasphalt.com/content/nanowrimo-cult-pedophiles

I think that NaNoWriMo in

I think that NaNoWriMo in some ways still produces people that are using it for reasons other than love of Fiction. It produces a lot of really bad literature and encourages bad writing. I do NaNoWriMo and for my own personal reasons I like it. However, sometimes when I read some of the writing that exists it makes me want to give up my passion for writing just because I get so frustrated.

I think you bring up a valid question with how one can have an audience with vast options and so many people writing fiction. I hope that this in turn can help boost the writer though - bringing reading and literature back into style. I think many people devalue literature and fiction.

I just hope that those that are really passionate about writing and literature and have a novel that is polished and cared for can find a way to succeed with other "writers" who put less time, effort or care into their writing.

That is my main problem with

That is my main problem with NaNo - not that it encourages everyone to write (which is amazing!) but because it encourages bad writing.

All writing, at its roughest,

All writing, at its roughest, is always bad writing. Good writing is not achieved on the first go, but through countless passes of editing, proofreading, and feedback. Yeah, NaNoWriMo doesn't promote these things as well as they could, but they're trying to motivate people to write in the first place. If you're so set on writing perfectly rather than just writing, then you'll never actually get to writing the next best seller.

NaNoWriMo means well, however...

National Novel Writing Month certainly means well, but you're right, it blurs the lines between writing a novel and writing 50,000 words. What's next? Felix Baumgartner hosting a Everyone Jump From Space Month? Nah... That takes too much effort.
http://himmelink.com/cynical/2012/11/03/national-novel-writing-month-is-for-the-weak/

Hmmm.

I guess I'm just surprised we can't all agree to disagree peaceably on this point. (Not you specifically, Eric; it seems like you're pretty content to do just that!) Some people get something useful out of the event, and good for them. Some of those people are good writers, others aren't. Regardless, no harm, no foul. Others think it's a banal/useless/offensive/whatever event. More power to them; if they don't like it, they don't have to participate or read about it or what have you. Personally, I find the deadline (despite the arbitrariness of it) helpful, but I get fed up with the cheerleading, so I pretty much skip all of that stuff and just participate solely for the artificially imposed deadline (otherwise, because I lack confidence, I tend to edit obsessively rather than writing new items or submitting writing; for me, nano is helpful for this reason alone). Some like it, some don't, and everyone's entitled to his or her opinion; it doesn't really need to be much more complicated than that, does it?

Thoughts on your article.

I appreciate the arguments you brought up in your article. (also on behalf of all the nanowrimians I want to apologize for any haters comments you have gotten solely because you were stating your opinion.)

But I just wanted to say that yes NaNoWriMo can be done for the wrong reasons and probably has made it harder to be a writer in this day and age. But I think there is one really wonderful thing that might redeem Nanowrimo from all the faults that have been discussed. It teaches you the power of doing, it pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you do it because you are racing against the clock. A lot of people avoid things they want to accomplish because they are afraid of failing.

Had I not participated in Nanowrimo I would still be stuck plotting out my first novel and only talking about writing but never actually doing it. Because I was afraid that nothing I wrote would be worth anything (and maybe its not, but at least I am writing and by writing, learning and by learning, improving) and I was afraid of failing. But there is so much power in just taking a step into the realm of the unknown and trying. That is a principle I have been able to apply of other areas of my life.

Man, do I feel you. I wrote

Man, do I feel you. I wrote an article a while back that half my readers loved and that pissed off the other half, and I STILL get hate-mail on it. For the record, I think you're right. NaNoWriMo turns out a bunch of crap. And for a lot of people, it seems to be one of those things they just do to add to the brag-fodder. But I think the benefit of it lies in that it gets the people who may have been turning over a great idea for years the push it sometimes takes to actually do something with it. It gets you past editing your first chapter over and over and OVER again, and allows you to spit it all out, get over the fact that it maybe sucks, and move on to being able to tackle it, polish it up, and turn it into something worth reading.

Keep up the good work, and don't let the haters get you down.

Amazing, "I accepted something and I'm so proud of it!"

It's good to hear that you have "accepted Nanowrimo at last," but do not think to yourself that it is such a big accomplishment that the world must care about, except possibly to stop others from becoming enraged at your six-year-old article.