The linked article would be disheartening to anyone who actively encourages creative energy of any form, but it’s particularly offensive to those of us who not only participate in NaNoWriMo, but volunteer our time and energy to make it a month-long social event occurring within a positive creative atmosphere.
My fellow NYC ML fshk breaks it down here, and I was just going to reblog her post, but I have more to add. I’ll quote the areas I address so you don’t have to read the train wreck of negativity, since the original article posits that writers don’t read shit anyway.
The purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough. Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.
…”Make no mistake,” the organization’s website counsels. “You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.”
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.
This is called the creative process. By giving yourself room to do things badly, you give yourself space to learn and grow. Nobody is perfect at anything right off the bat. This is why we go to school, take dance lessons, art classes, join marching band, Little League - whatever it is, you start somewhere. It’s silly to think that learning is something that’s only done as a child. Learning and growing should occur throughout your entire life, and this can only happen if you allow yourself to START something and give yourself the room to do it badly. It is by not getting discouraged (remember - try, try again?) that we continue to grow, learn, and get better at doing things.
I’d also like to point out that not all of the people who participate in NaNoWriMo do so with a published book in mind. This is my seventh year. I’ve accepted that I’m more of an artist than a writer, but I like to write, and NaNoWriMo is a great writing and creative exercise. Before I discovered it, the idea of a first draft was nonsense to me. I agonized over every word or phrase in order to make my writing perfect the first time around. Because if I was going to do something I had to do it perfectly. I can’t even begin to tell you how damaging that mindset is, and it’s something I’m working really hard to get over. I was bawling while writing my college application essays. My mother didn’t know what to do with me. Finding NaNoWriMo in my (very) early 20s made all future writing assignments so much easier, and taught me the value of revision. Not just because it makes your original work better, but because it makes the whole process less painless. It’s the gift I give to the kids I tutor: on scrap paper, jot down all of your ideas, however they come to you. Review, organize by number, and rewrite in full sentences. Go back over it again and revise your phrasing. Go over once more for typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors. And the assignment is done, ready to hand in. With NaNoWriMo, November is the scrap paper, and it is a necessary part of the creative process. If you expect to jump into something and come out with a finished draft, you’re going to make yourself crazy.
As someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them, I share [the editors’] trepidation.
The last thing the world needs is more bad books. But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.
Good creative energy is never, EVER misplaced. Christ on a bike, these two lines make me so fucking angry. This is what is wrong with our society. Creativity is devalued, and this is why the arts are the first thing to get cut in schools. What does this tell our children? “Your ways of expressing yourselves don’t matter.” I am thankful every single day that I went to a specialized arts high school. There, I was taught that art is communication, and you know what? All art is communication. Fine arts, dance, music, drama, writing - it all counts, and what we should be teaching our children is that what you create, what you do, does fucking matter and it is supported.
And excuse me, but the world DOES need bad books. Without the bad books there would be no good books because you need to start somewhere goddammit. If every single writer that there ever was put the pen to the paper, wrote one sentence, and said, “Holy crap, this is horrible! I’m never writing another word again!” we’d have nothing to read. So be happy that all of the writers of good books loved writing enough or were encouraged enough to push through the bad sentences and creative blocks, ignored the critics, and just kept writing and getting better.
She goes on to argue that part of the problem is that people who write don’t read, which is just a fucking fallacy. I don’t even know what else to say to that. Join Goodreads.
Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books. Even authors who achieve what probably seems like Nirvana to the average NaNoWriMo participant — publication by a major house — will, for the most part, soon learn this dispiriting truth: Hardly anyone will read their books and next to no one will buy them.
Once again, missing the point completely. The point is to create, whether anyone reads it or not. Why does the painter paint? Or the dancer dance? Because they must. If you are a creative individual and you don’t do these things, you’re denying yourself and it feels fucking awful.
NaNoWriMo provides a creative outlet with a built-in support network. We don’t live in a world where you can easily say, “Sorry, Boss/Kids, I need to go be creative for a few hours,” and have the response be, “Okay, cool! Have fun!” For people who want to write but who are told they don’t have the time and they’re selfish if they take the time, they don’t have the skill and they don’t have the time to develop the skill, etc, NaNoWriMo gives them something they need, something that’s missing, and something that feels good. And that many people in the world feeling good at the same time is a damn good thing.
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.
Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not —
A disgustingly offensive generalization, and SO. NOT. TRUE. (Also, in the words of Pee-wee Herman, “I know you are but what am I?”) NaNoWriMo takes a solitary, potentially tortured activity, and turns it into a social one. How great would it be to have that many people cheering you on for everything else you had to accomplish in life? What couldn’t we do? This article doesn’t give enough credit to the sacrifices and the willpower it takes to write 50,000 words of anything (crap or not) in 30 days. Being an ML in NYC for five years, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard something like, “By doing this, I know I can do anything.” How is it a BAD thing to encourage that many people? It’s not like the feeling or the experience ends on November 30th or the 50,000th word. You carry it with you. It makes other things that seemed difficult look easy.
It seems like one of the main points of the article is that readers need more attention. So instead of vilifying NaNoWriMo, aspiring writers, and people who just plain like writing stuff, how about taking the positive approach by drawing attention to organizations that promote literacy and aid libraries, thus fueling new generations of readers?
Oh, wait. The nonprofit organization behind National Novel Writing Month DOES THAT.