Is NaNoWriMo bad for writing?

Fri, May 6, 2016

Note This is a blog post I wrote a couple years ago on another platform. I decided to port it here as I think it’s still relevant.

What is NaNoWriMo?

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (usually shortened to NaNo) is the National Novel Writing Month. Held every year in November, the idea is that starting on the first you will start writing, and output as much as possible before the end of the month. The goal is to hit 50,000 words within this time, giving you a great start to writing and completing your first novel.

Now that we are all on the same page, I can start with the problems that some people have with it.

The Problems

I have seen a lot of talk lately about how NaNo is a bad thing. “It’s tourism,” established writers will say. “It invites piles of trash in our inbox come December,” publishing houses will say. You will hear others complain of how these ‘non-writers’ are trivialising what it takes to create a novel. That one month of spewing out the first garbage that comes to your mind is not what writing is.

Well, to be honest, they are all right. But that doesn’t mean people who want to participate in NaNo are wrong. I want to address each of these issues one at a time, to give each the attention they deserve and not just brush off what, in my opinion, are valid concerns.

The Three Issues

NaNoWriMo is Tourism I can understand the perspective that authors are coming from when they say this. To them, every month is NaNo. They spend their whole time writing, editing, proofing, and reading. Of course they do. This is their business. People who truly love writing will write, regardless of what month it is.

While I agree that this is true, how does that detract from the concept of NaNo as a whole? The vast majority of people who are going to participate in this year’s event are not professional writers. They have their own lives; their own jobs; their own hassles to deal with.

These people are not all the same either. Some of them write a lot, but aren’t pro yet. Some would love to be a writer, but can never find the time. Some don’t even want to be writers, but feel they have a story worth telling.

The main thing in common with all of these people is a lack of community. Established authors are part of a club. They have other authors they are friends with, who they can rely on to help them get through tough periods. First time writers don’t have that. Some lack the motivation, or willpower, or ability to get past that mountain of creating their first complete novel.

NaNo gives us that community. It gives us a network of people who, just like us, are going to stick it out for a month and try our hardest to be our best at something. A lot of them will fail, but that isn’t the point. The point is that it gives us a glimpse at what it is like to be in that club. That point when you feel like giving up, someone is there to catch you and help you get back onto your feet.

December Slump for Editors Now this is a complaint that I think has the most solid merit. Come the end of November, there will be a segment of people who will wrap up their zeroth draft and push it right out to every publishing house they can think of.

This is a problem, but it is not a problem of NaNo. This is a problem of amateurs. These newbies to the writing world who think that whatever they put onto paper the first time is the best it is ever going to get. They don’t understand that a completed novel has been revised multiple times over. There is not one novel in existence (that I have ever heard of) that was written in one go. Everything has been torn apart at least once, and usually many more times.

This would happen regardless of any single event. NaNo just give us more of these people in a short period of time. It is an unavoidable part of getting non-writers to write a novel. This will happen.

But isn’t it worth it? Sure, you might be frustrated for a period of time, but there are also stories that aren’t submitted in December. These are now being revised. There are people who aren’t normally writers who are following through on the process. They are tearing it apart again and again, pushing forward to what will some day be a completed story.

Now that story exists. Thanks to NaNo, that person who would never have written that story, has written that story. It will probably be awful, but it might be great. It might be the next best-seller. It might win the next Nobel Prize in Literature.

That, to me, makes it worth it. Having to dig through a few piles of crap to find a nugget of gold is pretty much the reason we all love reading anyway.

One Month does not a Novel Make This is essentially the same as the complaint above, but rooted more in pompousness than any actual business concerns.

I can’t say much more about this than I have already said above. Those that are going to dump, will. Those that are going to edit, will. It is what it is. It’s worth it. Your negative opinion does not change that.

The main issue I take with this opinion is that it doesn’t help anything. It is purely there to bring down those that are trying to achieve something. We know that a novel isn’t written in a month. How does that make putting in effort a bad thing?

I might sound a little defensive, but that is because I am. Writing a novel is hard as hell. It’s a struggle. It’s hard work. You have to pour yourself into something for an inordinate amount of time, that you aren’t even sure that other people are going to like. To have your work torn apart by others is a horrible, but necessary, experience that everyone who wants to publish something will go through.

So why tear those people down before they have even started? Don’t tell people how worthless they are when they are only just starting. If you do that, the worst thing imaginable might happen—they will give up. That is one book that could have changed the world that will now not be written. Thanks.

So please, don’t do that.

Conclusion

I understand why these complaints exist. People love reading, and they are protective of it. They don’t want the art form diluted. They don’t want it to appear simplified. It is the attitude of ‘Not everyone can write a novel—let’s keep it that way’.

This is the wrong way of thinking. Events like NaNo gave us The Night Circus. That book has won many awards, and it is modestly known for being written as part of NaNo. The difference that a lot of people seem to miss is that it was written over two of the events, and revised a hell of a lot in-between and after. It wasn’t released for years after the event for which it was written. But it is an amazing book.

I love reading. If you are reading this, I bet you love reading too. Is it not worth digging through a thousand ‘50 Shades’ to get to one ‘Night Circus’?

I think it is, and I hope you feel the same way.

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