Yesterday was my second worst NaNoWriMo opening day EVER. 802 mostly uninteresting words. Not a good way to start off. Luckily, it’s a long month.

And today, I read my first “NaNoWriMo is bad” blog post of the season. This one wasn’t an unreasonable criticism, though I have to admit that I got bored and didn’t actually finish reading. If you click the link, I apologize for linking to Their advertising is generally on the high end of obnoxious.

The general criticism of NaNoWriMo is that it plays up the fun part of writing, and glosses over the fact that you need do a lot of editing to end up with something that people really want to read. The vast majority of Nanoers will agree with this—you don’t go from November 30th to publication without a lot of work in between.

I know the NaNoWriMo website doesn’t like to bring this up. Who would take part if they kept reminding you that, even in the best case scenario, you’re looking at six to 12 more months of hard work before you get something that anyone might want to publish? So, instead, they promote the fun parts. The camaraderie, the excitement at finishing, the feeling of holding the printed manuscript in your hands for the first time…

But is publication really what NaNo is about? I’d argue that it isn’t, and never has been, and it’s nevertheless very worthwhile.

When I did NaNo for the first time, back in 2002, I had never written anything longer than about 20,000 words. I didn’t think I could write anything longer than that. But on November 27th, I uploaded a .doc file, and the little word counter robots declared me a winner. It was about 10pm, and I rushed out to the local 24 hour Kinkos with my file on a thumb drive, eager to print.

Unfortunately, Kinkos was closed. I think that’s why I always walk past the Kinkos down the street from me and go to the UPS store instead. Or maybe that’s because the service at FedEx/Kinkos is terrible, and the UPS store is great. It could be that, too.

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.

Most of the arguments against NaNo are the same as those against Blogger or YouTube or Twitter or any other website that encourages you to create and share content. If you make it easy, you get a lot of garbage. NaNoWriMo aims to make producing a rough draft of a novel easy, or relatively easy. Of course you’ll get a lot of garbage. But you might get some great stuff. And it might not be novels—you might inspire someone to take on another kind of project, and maybe one better suited to their talents. Inspiration has ripple effects.

Jon Renaut

Jon is a nine year Nanowrimo veteran, but can hardly be called an author, having never written anything of note outside of November.