NaNoWriMo criticism misses the point

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.

5 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo criticism misses the point”

  1. Have never done this but it seems to me that hitting the page with potent inspiration, no matter how messily expressed, is the signal difficulty of any writing. If NaNoWriMo entices people to exude their fever-brain-3 a.m.-scrounging-up-anchovy-paste-on-Melba-toast-cause-there’s-nothing-else-in-the-cupboard inspirational gold, then the fact that it will later need six or 12 months of sober and tedious rewriting to make it work is no real complaint at all.

  2. I think the biggest point these hardcore anti-nano folk miss is that the whole idea is to get you writing, and to get people to learn how to just get the story out.

    Sure, 98% of the novels produced are not going to be near publish-worthy. But at least they’re getting these stories out.

    And beyond that, a vast majority of participants do it for the fun of it. While sitting down and writing 50,000 words in 30 days may not qualify as fun to the average person, there’s a lot that enjoy it.

    Frankly, I just think people like Laura Miller are a) terrified that somewhere amongst the hoard of ‘doing it for fun’ novelists, some writers will emerge that will wipe her off the radar, and b) are envious because they can’t seem to understand the fun.

    1. Agreed – it’s quite easy to make up straw men to argue against.

      And the fun was the best part of my first Nano. Well, that and the rush of finishing. Even if I’d never done anything at all with that novel, it would have been worth it for the experience and for the people I met.

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