Is NaNoWriMo pointless?

I read an unexpected and strange Salon article by Laura Miller bashing the idea of NaNoWriMo and the people who participate in it as being foolish, wasteful, idealistic, naive and non-readers. After reading the end of it, I didn’t even know where to start with her illogical arguments, but realized Miller completely misses the point of NaNoWriMo and the message it sends writers.

Obviously writing a novel or 50,000 words in one month isn’t a recipe for an amazing, engaging and perfect bestseller. That’s not what NaNoWriMo is endorsing or even promoting. It’s promoting literary abandon, the freedom to pursue what you’ve been meaning to do but never found the push or time or the support or the courage:write!

There is more to writing a book than a first draft.

We all know that first drafts are meant to be crappy, rough outlines whether you write it in a one month writing marathon or over several months on your own time. Most people can not get through that step and don’t understand that their inner critic that wants them to write perfectly the first time around is wrong. Just wrong.

Revising, editing, workshopping–those are the tools that help shape your book and get it ready to be sent of to a publisher, if you so choose. And NaNo announces after the end of November, “I wrote a novel. Now what?”

If you successfully get through NaNo through honest means, not by giving your character four names or having them repeat everything they say, all you need to do is learn how to sustain that momentum through the next month, year and so on.

And that brings up another fallacy of Miller’s argument: that everyone who does NaNoWriMo wants to be published or immediately wants their novel to be published or want to get that novel published at all. Not true!

If I finish my NaNo novel, I’m not going to print it out, stick it in an SASE envelope to a publisher that I chose by closing my eyes and picking a name out of a list. I’m going to continue working on it until it’s ready, which is what I’m doing with the one I started last year. I might have rushed through the first draft, but I’m definitely not going to rush through the rest of the writing process.

NaNo writers aren’t readers

Miller say that all the people participating in NaNoWriMo should all go read a book instead, because most Americans never read do. So people who are supporting and engaging themselves in the creative arts community, the very process that makes books, are the ones who are the reason Americans don’t read more books? Really?

I fully believe you cannot be a real writer if you are not also a reader.I’m a huge bookworm and spending this month writing isn’t going to prevent me from being a reader, just like it won’t prevent me from talking to people, eating, doing homework etc. I would argue the majority of NaNo writers are in fact readers themselves.

Real writers don’t avoid life. They might cut out luxuries and going out to movies all the time, watching TV, but why is that a problem? Applying yourself to your passion/job isn’t an absurd thing, if you ask me. Spending one month on a dream, on a goal is never fruitless. It’s empowering and self-actualizing.

No one can prove that someone is a bad writer.

Miller certainly doesn’t know all the participants in NaNoWriMo or their skill level, education, publishing history or profession, so how could she paint them all in one brush as irrational, bad writers?

They may be an underdeveloped one, they may not have recognized their authentic voice, they may be trying to imitate someone else’s ideas, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad writer. Should we have said Einstein was stupid and would never amount to anything because he failed math in school? Why can’t we give writers the benefit of the doubt?

I don’t think we should blame NaNoWriMo for making people who aren’t “good writers” put everything aside to write the Great American Novel and further extend editor’s slushpiles. That’s like saying if it weren’t for American Idol, we wouldn’t have tone-deaf people believing they can get a singing career. People are always going to have impossible dreams and inaccurate perceptions of their talents and skills, but how is that hurtful or detrimental to society?

Takeaway Message

We all have our time and place and if given the opportunity, those who accept the challenge and allow themselves the chance to achieve will in the end be successful. NaNoWriMo could be the challenge that allows a young writer to see their potential with all the encouragement, support, positivity and constructive criticism.

I’m happy to see Carolyn Kellogg’s response to Miller’s argument in defense of NaNoWriMo and I hope that you will still be encourage to continue your writing, whether or not you are keeping up with the daily word counts.

People will always come up with a billion excuses for you to not achieve your goal.

You only need one reason to do it: because you can.

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