Why I Hate National Novel Writing Month, and Why You Should Too

Edit: Instead of reading this old thing, why don't you read How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept NaNoWriMo?

So November is "National Novel Writing Month", where people are challenged to write a complete 50,000 word novel in one month. The concept owes it's origins to the 24-hour Comics Day, originally thought up by Scott McCloud (of Understanding Comics fame), though the stated purposes of these two challenges could not be more divergent. The 24-Hour comic was invented because Scott McCloud was dismayed at how slowly his friend Steve Bissette was working. "I'll bet he could do a full length comic in a day if he wanted to!" He thought. Doing a comic in a day was an exercise to stir up the creative juices in a comics creator, and the 24 hour comic website includes a "Random story seed" section to help you pick something for your exercise. "Is this really the best way to make a great comic?" asks the FAQ. "Probably not, ... but that's not the real goal. The goal is to have the experience of trying. It's a creative exercise that can teach you a lot about what you're capable of." This is noble and interesting.

Rather than being an exercise for creators, "National Novel Writing Month," instead posits itself as a challenge for non-writers. Quoth the website:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. ... In 2005, we had over 59,000 participants. Nearly 10,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

I'm not sure why someone "scared away by the time and effort involved" in novel writing would instead want to put themselves through the wringer of doing a whole novel in a month, but the "finish line" metaphor is telling; to the NaNoWriMo people, writing a novel is like running a marathon, something difficult and strenuous that you do only so you can say you did it before you died. (Or rather, like running a marathon has become in the popular imagination; there are those who still lament the passing of the age when marathons were for serious runners only.) I shouldn't have to say that this attitude is repugnant, and pollutes the world with volumes upon volumes of one-off novels by people who don't really care about novel writing. I can't help but wonder out of all those 59,000 people, how many of them will ever write another word. And "NaNoWriMo" is nothing if not oblivious to the absurdity of its own project. Again, from the website:

Katrina, you have proven that no one is too young to write a novel by introducing NaNoWriMo to three- and four-year-olds this year. Could you tell me what it’s like guiding fresh, uninhibited minds through their first NaNoWriMo?

Three- and four-year olds? Are their minds "fresh" and "uninhibited" because they've never heard of a novel before? Next year will we have novel writing fetuses? How about novel writing pets? It'd be such a shame if Fluffy went her whole life without putting pen to paper.

The thing that made McCloud's challenge interesting is that it stemmed exactly from a deep and abiding love of the medium and a desire to see more work in it. As for National Novel Writing Month, they seem to care more about making you feel good than about anything having remotely to do with storytelling. And you'll excuse me if I find that just a little depressing.

UPDATE: For more on this see my post National Novel Writing Month Redux.

Comments

Like most things, it's about the user, not the tool

NaNoWriMo won't turn bad writers into good ones, and will result in a large pile of unpublishable gibberish. Then again, the same is true about the Web, and that does have its merits.
I myself am a participant in NaNoWriMo, and am not at all used to writing this way. Before now, I've found myself perpetually stuck inside the 5-page short story about one, maybe two characters. People other than friends have praised those stories, so I guess I have at least some skill as a writer.
Now that I'm doing the NaNoWriMo thing, I've already written something longer than anything else I've done before. True, my writing is often abysmal. True, the motivational speeches and community spirit are lost on me. But if the result turns out to be crap, I'll still have flexed my muscles and no one will have to be subjected to it. If, on the other hand, the result is passably good, I can get to work editing it and turning it into something real. I don't think I would have been able to do that without obsessing about writing a lot in short time.

If you want to write, more

If you want to write, more power to you. If writing a lot in a short span of time helps you get somewhere with your writing, that's great. It's the idea that writing a novel is something anyone and everyone should do that bothers me, and that writing a novel is somehow seperate from dedicating yourself seriously to the craft of writing. There's nothing wrong with being an "amateur" writer. There's nothing wrong with being a bad writer and trying to make yourself a better writer through concerted effort, through challenging yourself. That's, in fact, pretty admirable. But writing fiction is a tough thing for anyone to do well, and requires dedication and a deep and abiding love of the medium. If you're just doing it because it seems like a fun thing to do, or because you want to have done it before you died, or because you think somehow mystically it will make you a better person, well, those just aren't very good reasons and will almost never produce something worth reading. And I'm not saying you are doing it for those reasons, Cronopio, I'm just saying that NaNoWriMo specifically encourages that kind of thing.

I would think more 'serious'

I would think more 'serious' writers would be glad to see 'amateurs' taking a shot at writing a novel. Those that *think* they have a great idea and could totally be the next Stephen King or what have you will find out how much work it actually takes to write a novel. One worth reading and/or publishing, that is. I think the amateurs would finally realize the hard work and effort that goes into writing a good book.

For the rest, what is so terrible about trying one's hand at being creative? Why do you care if someone spends a month writing crap? I don't think it takes anything away from the 'serious' writer at all.

It would be like a train conductor telling a model train enthusiast that he should quit building that train track in his basement because it's nothing like the real thing. Doesn't that sound ridiculous to you? There's a big difference between professional, published writer and the hobbyist or amateur. Why care if these people produce anything worthwhile? I don't see how their attempts affect you at all.

I think you're missing the

I think you're missing the point.

Let me put it this way. Imagine if someone suggested "Write a Symphony Month." Normal people everywhere, people who've maybe never played a note of music, should go out, buy staff paper and write a complete symphony in a month. It would be absurd. Why? Because writing a symphony is a specialized skill practiced by dedicated composers. Yet there's this notion that anyone can write a novel, I suppose because everyone knows some language, whereas not everyone knows musical theory. But novel writing is also a specialized skill.

My suspicion is that most of the people participating in National Novel Writing Month don't so much want to be writers as they want to have written novels. The whole thing just serves to exacerbate the devaluing of the novel in the public imagination that's been going on for a long time now. As someone who does deeply care about the novel, I'd say that affects me pretty directly.

It clearly states on the

It clearly states on the NaNoWriMo website that editing is for later, and of course people can go above and beyond 50k if they so choose. A novel isn't based upon how long it takes a person to write it, taking longer to write something doesn't make it any worse or better. As is of the same for a symphony.

If these things are only meant for trained novelists or trained composers, how would they ever get to the experienced status without trying it out in the first place?

Now I understand that rushing into something can make it crap, but as said, editing is for later - I'm not talking about going to the thesaurus's either. Possibly rewriting and whatnot, the point of writing it in one month is so that people will actually push themselves to get passed 'writers block' and actually get it all down, set in stone.

Frankly, different people have different opinions. Whose to say what's crap or not?

Sorry for semi- talking in circles. :)

Nicely said! Also, I think

Nicely said! Also, I think the author of this blog is making some vastly misguided assumptions. Sure, there are probably a lot of people who participate in nanowrimo every year who can't write worth a dime and perhaps shouldn't bother (though frankly, that's their problem, not anyone else's - let them have their fun!). But I think there are also a lot of people (yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I am one) who write quite well, are members of writing groups, have successfully completed and perhaps even published short fiction, etc., etc., who sign up for nanowrimo because a semi-official deadline and goal is more motivational than a fully self inflicted one, or because it provides encouragement to stop constantly self-editing (which can be the death knell of writing a longer work of fiction) or just because it's fun and they like the community aspect. It's strange to assume that nanowrimo solely or even primarily caters to those who "can't write". Also, keep in mind that for people who CAN write well and have spent a great deal of time writing, the bare minimum 1667 words a day is really not difficult to achieve! So sure, there probably are vast differences between participants (skill levels, motivation, etc.), but that doesn't mean that the whole event consists of a plethora of people sitting around writing crap.

Going off of this...

Yes! Let them have their fun! It's not for non-writers, but for those who wish to complete a novel, and may never have done so before. The difference is that a non-writer doesn't write at all, but an individual who has never completed a novel may have written short stories, scripts, contemporary essays, memoirs, or poetry. You ask how someone could be "scared away" by the time and effort and than decide to write a novel in a month. I agree this seems like a strenuous feat, but it's the idea of pushing yourself to your creative limits, joined with thousands of other novelists that I find so compelling. It's a motivation, a reason to make time. Sure it's just as scary as it would otherwise be. Of course some people hardly find it frightening, but those people are either arrogant in terms of talent, "just" writing, or skilled in overcoming anxiety. Putting so much of your energy into to characters and a plot and a world and stylistic prose are very draining. I can see why someone would be scared off by the time and effort, but it's like any other commitment, any other big decision. A decision I'm willing to make. It's not that I never thought I could before. But after finding out about NaNoWriMo, I was inspired to finally get those ideas off my head an on paper.
I don't plan on sending it out to the publishing world. This was for me; a promise I made to myself when I was ten years old to complete a story before I was 12 then 13 then 14 then 15. It needs revising boot camp and will very probably only ever be seen by my eyes.
But NaNo isn't about writing novels going out and publishing them. It's about finishing a draft of your story.
I hate the aspects you destroy as well.
I'd hate if it was just for non-writers.
I'd hate if it was just to get it published.
But this month isn't for getting junk on to a page; it's for us - the writers - to get our visions out of our heads and see them become reality.
Even if it is shit.

I think you're missing the point

I've never done a NaNo... yet. But I've been a professional writer for 15 years. As one of those "skilled" folk you're touting, I can honestly say that yes, anyone CAN write a novel, and I often encourage people to do so. Why? Because everyone has a story worth telling. Yes, everyone. And if they can only manage it through the competition of 50k in 30 days, well, then I say go for it. Regardless of whether or not that novel is publishable, setting a challenge for yourself and coming through it is a positive thing.

It has never made any sense to me why someone would feel a need to rain on someone else's parade, and this is a prime example of it. No one has to live up to anyone else's standards except their own. You personally do not like the idea of NaNoWriMo, so then don't participate. But that doesn't mean that others shouldn't if it's something they want to do.

And honestly, I don't understand your differentiation between the 24-hour Comic and the 30-day novel. They both accomplish the same thing: getting those people who have always wanted to do something an opportunity and a reason to do it. Both offer the artist a chance to break through their own fears and inhibitions to just do the job because they have a time limit in which to do it. There isn't time to worry or feel shy about getting things on paper. You just have to get it done.

Hmm... so I think I'm off now to sign up for NaNo... Maybe it's time I wrote that Great American Novel... in 30 days, no less!

Thank you! I'm glad someone

Thank you! I'm glad someone made the points that you did.
I've done nanowrimo the last three years, and I'll be honest, I haven't reached the 50k goal yet. I want to be a serious writer, but because I have other professional goals as well, I don't have too much time or patience for it. Nanowrimo gives me a deadline, and pushes me to get back to working on my projects. I have a great appreciation for the effort put into novel-writing, as I have studied it at various schools and on various levels. I have also spent over a decade developing the plot and characters of a series I am working, because I don't want to make up the story as I go. National Novel Writing Month is a chance to get one's creative juices going and push people to get their ideas on paper. It's also amazing what interesting ideas you can come up with when pushed past your normal creative limits. Anyone can write a great novel, and nanowrimo is a chance for people to see if they have what it takes.
Someone mentioned that nanowrimo lowers standards of the novel, but it simply isn't true. The way novels are written have changed with culture and developed to meet society's desires. People aren't going to read nonsense just because someone wrote it; they'll continue to choose books that they find engaging and interesting. If anything, by having more people write novels, we are providing a wider range for people to choose from and find their favortie style/content.
As for the writing a symphony in 30 days idea that was bashed, why can't we have such a challenge? As a lover of music (especially the classical, romantic, and modern eras), as well as a violinist, vocalist, pianist, and former clarinest, I would love to play new and various music. As an amatuer composer, I would love the challenge of working alongside other amatuer composers at getting our ideas expressed through music.
The main point I want to make is that going through these compressed competitions forces people to realize the effort put into even the smallest piece of art. Whether it's a comic, a novel, or a symphony.

Well said

Thank you for that.

I don't see the reason for people trying to throw people out of their "club" telling someone who has a dream to write that they can't do it, is just wrong. I'm no professional, but I am finishing my final touches to my very own first completed novel. I'm no Hemingway, but I do think I'm pretty good, and I will be finding myself an agent soon, no matter how many dream-crushing-people I find in my path.

I'm not doing this for some sort of glory, but self satisfaction that I can complete something I never thought I could. I've always been a writer, since I was single digits in age, and have won school contests with my writing. But I always had a hard time with finishing, because I didn't have the courage.

I'm also doing it for my 11 year old niece, who has problems writing, but has a great imagination. She will be doing the kid's version of NaNoWriMo with me. If anyone ever told her that she could not do it, because she wasn't talented, or professional enough, they would have to deal with a very large angry family. Crushing people's dreams is not what writing is about, is about creating dreams.

So thank you for what you wrote, I appreciate someone who actually wants to help others' dreams, not crush them, tell them they are not good enough to be "special" like them.

As a member of the YWP NaNo

As a member of the YWP NaNo Program who has participated since grade 5, I strongly disagree with what you have said. You say that novel writing is a specialized skill, but in order to be able to do anything at a specialized level, you need practice. Looking back at my first novel, written when I first joined, it was terrible. But it gave me the mindset to believe that I could continue to write, and since then my writing has gotten better every year. I do want to be a writer, and have wanted to be a writer since I was two years old. I understand the difference between my novels and what published writers have written, but I still want to get to that point and NaNoWriMo is helping me to make my writing better. I care deeply about the novel as well, being an avid reader born into a family of librarians and authors, but I don't think that this is devaluing it. If anything, it's making the value higher, as people realize how difficult it actually is to write a novel.

We all started somewhere

You're going to get quite a bit of flak for this post, as there are scores of people out there who have discovered a new passion and deep, continuing love for the written word PRECISELY because of nanowrimo. They didn't do it because 'oh my friends are doing it, check that off the bucket list'. They did it because they had a story in their hearts and the act of writing, of reading, of storytelling, speaks to them - and only by jumping in to a fun opportunity did they learn it was there. Nanowrimo opens the door for so many. Why would you begrudge them that? Sure, some don't take it seriously, but their work is awful and doesn't go anywhere. You sound like a cold, bitter elitist.

You act like people writing

You act like people writing this "gibberish" is somehow damaging to you. It's not. And that's the fact of the matter, quite simply - you can say you don't want to read anything that comes out of it, you can say it's a stupid feel-good/false-optimism event, but you act like it should be erased from the face of the earth, and you don't have that right.

If you want to write a

If you want to write a polemic decrying "unqualified" persons from writing, you should probably not use the incorrect form of "its" in your second sentence. It makes you look like, well, an amateur.

Why do you care?

Eric - I understand what you're saying but I don't understand the force and derision in how you say it. If people want to spend the month writing garbage over and over and saying they are novelists - so? How does it bother you? Good books will rise to the top, self-published stuff that isn't good won't get audiences - or it will- people who actually want to read the stuff. Like people who actually want mass-produced art on their walls or favour fast-food restaurants over local cuisine. I mean, in my country a complete and utterly dangerous moron became prime minister. I want life to be better for everyone but I don't get to say what better is. Just what it is for me. So, if you hate NaNoWriMo, cool, but don't tell me to hate it. I have better things to do with my time.
And so my friend, might you.

National Novel Writing Month

For me the point is the value of following through on private promises, which is a kind of antidote to the "lives of quiet desperation" that Thoreau talked about. Or Stephen Spender who cautioned us "never to allow gradually the traffic to smother with noise and fog the flowering of the spirit."

Many of us have lived inside novels, then closed the book and dreamt about writing one. Most of us simply go on to do our homework or rush off to the car to get to work. Writing a novel is one of those things we would love to do, maybe have had ongoing ideas about, but never follow through on. Earning a living and participating in a family takes over. This is fine if we really don't have anything to say and simply want to enjoy a little fantasy. But for some of us, not writing means not following through on the things we hope for ourselves.

I've been doing that, and this year I may be retiring and so that I finally sit down to work. But I have to admit that I'm nervous about it. Knowing that there are so many people out there giving it a try is inspiring. Maybe I'll never show anyone my manuscript, and maybe I'll find a publisher. Maybe my friends will be embarrassed by my efforts. But at least I'll know that when I think I should do something that challenges and invigorates me, I'll get on with it.

how much does it affect reality?

you seem pretty cut up about this subject, eric. while i follow what you are saying, i wonder if ANY of those novels make it off the virtual vellum they are typed into.

i mean, you quote the people behind the concept as saying that 10,000 people finished. well, for one thing what they finished is 50,000 words which is a bit short for a novel. and for a second thing, and my point really, how many of these efforts actually saw the light of day (and i don't mean self-published)? my guess is zero. but maybe you shoud write those people and ask them? that might put your mind at rest.

oh, by the way, what are you reading at the moment? i ask because i've just read three bad novels, could use a pointer or two.

cheers, fall guy

The novel I'm reading right

The novel I'm reading right this second isn't actually very good. However, some things I've read recently that I can recommend:

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Laona by Umberto Eco (but really, anything by Eco is pretty good -- his most well known books are Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose.)
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by H.P. Lovecraft
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman (see my review)
Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein -- not a "great" novel, but a fine example of solid boy's adventure fiction, a genre I've had a recent obsession with.

If your looking for good reading, you should also just check the previous posts on this site. For instance, I cannot recommend the work of Kelly Link enough. She's unbelievable.

Hope that helps.

also, i've been devouring

also, i've been devouring the work of British author David Mitchell lately. His first novel, Ghostwritten is an excellent read.

Elitist novelist?

I'm a little repulsed by the elitist tone of your post. To me, your argument that NaNo novels diminis "serious novels" has about as much validity as the argument that gay marriage somehow diminises heterosexual marriage. My response? If a NaNo novel can threaten a "serious" novel, maybe it wasn't such a serious novel to begin with.

The "point" of NaNoWriMo is not far from McCloud's concept at all. MANY of the writers on NaNo are serious writers who are exploring their writing in a new way, such as myself. I've been writing novels since I was 15, and doing a one-month novel opened me up to ideas I wouldn't have considered without the sense of deadline and community. Indeed, even if you aren't a "serious" writer, you *are* for the month of November. Writing a novel is not easy, as you seem to know well from your post, and by the end of November many others have discovered that as well. Whether the novel that comes out at the end of November is a masterpiece or a laughable failure by "literary" standards, each and every person deserves credit for the amount of time they devoted to writing during this month, regardless of whether they write during the rest of the year or not. And if they don't? All the more reason to write during November.

And as for your criticism of those who "walk away novelists" -- we live in a world where most of us do not have the luxury of being novelists as a full-time job. Most of us are mechanics, secretaries, parents, students, you name it. Does that mean we don't have a worthwhile story inside of us? Absolutely not.

I came to this article hoping to find something thought-provoking, but found it to be rather trivial whining from someone who feels threatened that "non-writers" have suddenly begun writing.

Sigh. I'm tired of explaning

Sigh. I'm tired of explaning myself over again to people who misunderstand me, but let me make one thing clear: I myself have a full-time job that has nothing to do with writing or publishing. Even most published novelists these days have to support themselves doing something else. That's not what I'm talking about. You don't "start" a mechanic and then after a month of writing walk away a writer. You're someone who's made a decision to make writing part of your life, and then you're a mechanic and a writer. And that's different.

Alright, I'm going to say this one more time in the simplest language I can think of and underline it for you so I can be sure you understand it: NaNoWriMo trivializes novel writing.

So you are saying that novel

So you are saying that novel writing should remain in the world of "real writers". NaNoWriMo trivializes novel writing. That is bullshit. That's like saying children who draw trivialize the art of painting/drawing or people who try their hand at making a violin trivialize making instruments. People who try their hand at a craft/art do not trivialize that craft, they end up understanding it better.

"Trying your hand" at

"Trying your hand" at writing fiction and writing a whole novel (in a month, no less) are not quite the same thing. I stand by what I've already said.

What's with this whole

What's with this whole 'trying your hand' thing? Most writers start out as no more than dreamers. That's how it for for the infamous J.K. Rowling. She wasn't anything special, and either was Harry, until one day upon chance she got her first book published, and look at it.
Anybody can be a writer, Eric. Why does it matter to you if people write? Somebody a minute ago said that you're basically stating writing should be for writers, in different words, of course. But how did those writers become writers, Eric? By writing, am I wrong?
NaNoWriMo is for lots of things. For young and old writers alike, it can be anything: it can be a stress reliever, something fun to do, something for those who seriously want to publish and are trying their hand at something small, etc. etc. Who cares why they're doing that? Why are you so fired up about it? Do you think that aspiring artists shouldn't paint? That aspiring musicians shouldn't try writing their first song? If they don't write their first song, Eric, how the heck do you think they'll become musicians?

I don't care that this

I don't care that this article is outdated, and I don't even care that you (attempted) to make peace with your condescending hatred of NaNoWriMo. But I do have to get this off my chest, which is what someone else has already said: if you don't "try your hand" at writing fiction, how do you ever expect to get better at it? I've been writing for a decade, and the only way I GOT better was by "trying my hand." And if you're ever informed enough to go read up on a few writers and their journeys through the gauntlet of publishing, most will tell you about their trunk stories. And guess what those are? Crap stories that turned out while they were trying their hand.

Writing is art and experimentation, and the hard truth is that if you ever think you'll become a great writer via osmosis or some other passive method that doesn't involve sitting down in a chair and practising the craft, I'm worried for you. I was an aspiring writer for three years before I came to the NaNoWriMo and I've been doing it for six now. Sure, what I produce is crap. Sure, I'll probably end up scrapping most of it in the rewrite. But what that time limit does is give others a chance to shut up that incessant inner-editor, the dooming voice of self-inferiority, and lets the creative voice sing.

Now that that's done, maybe I'll go give that other article a read and see if there's less of the elitist junk I got, and a more informed, engaging opinion.

If you're tired of explaining

If you're tired of explaining yourself over and over again then that should be a very strong indication that you haven't made your initial argument very well at all.

Nobody doing Nanowrimo expects to walk away being able to call themselves a writer unless they're the kind of self deluded people who call themselves writers after hours in a cafe with an empty notebook in front of them, they expect to walk away with 50,000 more words than they started with. That's an enormous effort and it should be recognised and rewarded as such.

The fact that there's more to being a writer than simply getting enough words on a page is outside the scope of nanowrimo and the organisers freely admit it - hence why december is national editing month. However the FIRST step to being a writer is to actually write something and and incredibly large step it is - nanowrimo helps people take that step in an efficient and successful way. More power to them!

Your arguments are beyond childish and into the realms of petulance and ignorance. Nothing can trivialise novel writing because novel writing is an incredibly difficult process - nanowrimo trivialises the FEAR of writing by removing the impediments of worrying about what you're writing and instead concentrating on how much you're writing. If you can't see the value in that then you're no writer at all.

NaNoWriMo does not take itself too seriously

I am several years late here, but I love NaNo so much, and I could not disagree more with your statement. I think you are missing Chris Baty's tonge-in-cheekity. I write all year long, for the same reasons I read: it is fun, stimulating, and I am dying to find out what happens. When November arrives I am forced to write so fast that my imagination gets ahead of my inner editor, and sometimes I am amazed at what emerges. Could I write like this all year long? No. I would never get anything else done. But in November I take a vacation from most of the rest of my life and give myself up to the headlong dash.

What you see as a trivialization is celebration and motivation. Every good novel started out as a crappy rough draft (some crappier than others, naturally).

Art Elite

I think it is unfortunate that our culure encourages us to look for art outside of ourselve. We look at a painting, watch a play, or, yes, read a novel and marvel at a genius that can never be ours. Not true. I appreciate NaNoWriMo if only because it prods everyone to explore, again, EXPLORE the creative process. I can't believe anyone would call this" trivializing."

Cruising through the replies,

Cruising through the replies, I too was puzzled by the fierceness of the put-down of nanowrimo. I have subjects that get me trotting out my sword, so I can identify, but one of the comments drew an apt analogy with gay marriage. How can gay marriage devalue marriage? Some gay couple gets married and that damages my marriage?? Makes my husband unfaithful?? Makes me a shrew?
A bunch a writing fools (Think "dancing fools" not idiots) get together and that devalues my novel? It just doesn't compute.

I have a Love/Hate relationship with it

I'm a published novelist, and yet I've done this NaNo thing three times now. Twice I've produced piles of crap I never want to see again, and so I ignored the November challenge for a few years. This year I used it to simply kick my butt out of a writer's block, and it did, but there's no way I'm going to make the word count they're demanding, and I don't care. All that matters is that it got me working on a story again, and one that I actually care about.

Love it, hate it. It's harmless, but I have to cringe when I think of all those slush readers at the publishing houses who get inundated with the results of each November's avalanche of crap. Heh.

yeah, that slush pile ...

like jerry, i've been thinking about those nanowrimo slush piles. but i think readers are pretty eagle-eyed and will throw out a bad ms after a couple of bad paragraphs or what?

on nanowrimo's homepage they talk about novels that have been published, so it DOES work for some (the following is from their FAQ page):

Has anyone had their novel published?
Quite a few! Jon F. Merz was one of Team 2001's winners; his NaNo book The Destructor was published by Pinnacle Books in March 2003. Lani Diane Rich, sold her 2002 NaNo-penned manuscript, Time Off For Good Behavior to Warner Books, and it came out to great reviews in October 2004, and won the Romance Writers of America RITA award for Best Debut Novel eight months later. Her 2003 NaNoWriMo novel was published by Warner Books as Maybe Baby in 2005.

We had several sales of NaNoWriMo novels in 2004 and 2005. Sarah Gruen's Flying Changes began as a NaNoWriMo novel. Rebecca Agiewich sold her 2003 NaNoWriMo book, Breakup Babe to Ballantine in 2004; it'll be hitting stores in May of 2006. Dave Wilson sold his 2004 NaNoWriMo Manuscript, The Mote in Andrea's Eye, to Five Star/Gale; it'll come out in June 2006. In fall of 2005, Gayle Brandeis sold her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Self Storage, to Ballantine in a two-book deal. Around the same time, Kimberly Llewellyn found a home for her 2004 NaNoWriMo manuscript, Cashmere Boulevard, at Berkley Books. It's due out in summer 2007.

Francesca Segre sold her 2003 NaNo manuscript Daughter of the Bride to Berkley Books; it came out in March, 2006. Also out this year, Jenna Bayley-Burke's NaNoWriMo novel Just One Spark came out with Mills and Boon in May. Lisa Daily started her soon to be published novel, during NaNoWriMo 2005. The Dreamgirl Academy is due out in the spring of 2008 under Plume/Penguin Putnam.

*

as to the quality, well, i haven't read any of them or any of the reviews so i'm in the dark (maybe the publishing houses mean something to you wet asphalt guys; maybe eric should stick his head in the lion's mouth and see if it really does stink in there or if he comes out smelling of violets?).

NaNoWriMo was a great experience for this serious writer

As a professional writer, I have nothing but praise for National Novel Writing Month. I am a successful technical writer who suffered from writer's block for years in my creative work. I heard about NaNoWriMo in 2004 and found it a fantastic way to break through my writer's block, work on technique, and move myself into a different level as a writer. I used a sample of my novel (edited, of course--all first drafts are going to need editing) to be accepted into a competitive creative writing graduate program. I'm loving it.

I am continuing to edit the original book I wrote (54,000 words in 2004, and then another 60,000 words in 2005) and will probabaly use it as my culminating project for my degree. I would never have put together a 400-page manuscript any other way. I'm way ahead of most of the students in my novel writing class because of the practice I've gained.

This year I did NaNoWriMo again and hit 67,000 words. It's a mystery novel, and I am wrapping it up today at 69,000. I'll need to pad in another 7-8,000 words to make it publishable length, but I'll do that after I have a few people read it and get some feedback. I can really see how my previous years' work has strengthened my skills. This manuscript, while genre, is an improvement over my last one even at the first draft level.

I think that NaNoWriMo adopts a light-hearted tone to keep everyone's spirits up, but the posts and podcasts really discuss issues of technique, motivation, writer's block, etc. as well as goofy topics. It's valuable training, it's free, and it's fun. And gosh, I don't see how encouraging people to achieve their artistic dreams in any way trivializes novel writing. I don't see the cheerleading tone of the site doing that in any way--they're just helping you keep going on a very difficult task. I spent at least two hours a day writing, all month long, while running my own business and being a parent. The cheerleading was highly appreciated. I felt part of a community even though I never got to a group writing session this year.

Sure, 50,000 words isn't long enough to be published under most circumstances, and they say that on the site. But it's a great start. And sure, the work can be of iffy quality, but that's what first drafts are about. And there's always NaNoEdMo--National Novel Editing Month. I may just do it this year to whip my mystery into better shape.

I'm glad to have joined the ranks of creative writers who are actually writing...not just talking about it.

I don't know why you're

I don't know why you're fretting over the "volumes upon volumes of one-off novels by people who don't really care about novel writing" that you imagine will be published as a result of NaNoWriMo. I mean, is there a section at Barnes and Noble devoted to one-off novels by people who don't really care about writing?

Leave us alone. We had joy, we had fun, we had seaons in the sun.

Good and constructive fun

I participated in NaNoWriMo this year and am unable to hate it. I found it was a great motivation to write freely and spontaneously instead of deliberating for hours over each sentence and ending up with a very small quantity of pompous prose. I was surprised at the quality of many parts of my "novel."

The group of people I knew that were participating were all doing it in the interest of creativity and plan to use the results of Novemeber's writing frenzy as raw material for novels and short-stories. They will all carry on writing now that the competition is over, just like they were before it started.

NaNo doesn't "trivialize"

NaNo doesn't "trivialize" novel writing. Anyone can write a novel, but it takes a special one to write a good one. I understand that most of these novels are complete crap, but what about hte people writing them? What do they get out of it? An accomplsihed feeling: knowing that even if it IS crap, you wrote 50k words, in a shorter period of time than anyone ever thought possible. I don't believe that you are a born novelist, or it takes training to be one.

Novel-writing can come easily to some, and you can work at it. If you do this yearly, eventually, you'll get better. The more you write, the better you get. NaNoWriMo encourages writing more; that's the point, to write more.

I agree!

Hi there,

I've actually been actively searching for other people who are disgusted by nanowrimo. Lack of capitalization fully intended, by the way. The term that I may or may not have coined for the month is "FaFoWriMo," or Fast Food Writing Month. Remember, their policy is "quantity not quality," and that sounds very similar to fast food to me. The reason that nanowrimo trivializes novel writing and diminishes the worth of actual writers is because people are going to start rolling their eyes whenever somebody introduces themselves as a "writer." The term is losing its significance. Apparently wrimo-kids have a very confused understanding of semantics if they believe they can officially call themselves "writers" and "novelists" and boast about how they "wrote a book." These statements are all, in the strictest sense of the word, correct, but they completely disregard the connotations of the statement. Another comparison to fast food can be made here - by the logic of nanowrimo, McDonalds workers can go around telling people that they're gourmet chefs. It does, in fact, minimalize the painstaking efforts that other writers take to produce error-free, plot-continguous and high quality writing.

I've never participated in

I've never participated in the event, but I am intrested in other people's opinions on the topic. I can see things that are both helpful and harmful to the craft of novel writing, but I can honestly say that I think that one good thing about it that tips the scales for me is that it propels people to FINISH a project.

Granted, when a great percentage of people have "finished" at the end of November, they'll have a pile of stuff that no one will ever want to read. Fewer still will go back to rewrite and fix and patch things up and do all the dirty work that goes unappreciated.
However, and this might be the bleeding-heart optimist in me, I think that for a few of the thousands of people who are beating the shit out of their keyboards this month, it'll instill a sense of the importance of keeping at it. I don't know how much this is going to make me sound like a dewy-eyed simpleton, but I feel like if this month-long experiment gives one person a newfound appreciation and dedication that they didn't have before, then the benefits exceed the drawbacks.

For context, I am a published writer and professor of creative writing. I finished a graduate program in writing only a few years ago, and the difference between my classmates who went on to write and those who sat around and bitched about the state of writing today was that the former FINISHED and REWROTE, while the latter mostly claimed to be troubled geniuses who were too tortured to discipline themselves. Unrelatedly, most of those people are still living on daddy's dime.
Further, I am sure that it'd be only too easy to find blowhards in the course of the project who fancy themselves brilliant story tellers whose work acutally only makes you want to drown yourself, but take it from me, it's just as easy to find in graduate writing programs all over the country. The quiet ones who let their work stand on their own are out there, and they're working all the time, trying to get better and develop their writing muscles; I think I'm really hoping that such people aren't scared off from participating because of a fear of someone looking down their nose at them, even if only in e-form.

Also, I don't think that it's a recent phenomenon for "the common man", for complete lack of a better term, to go around calling themselves writers. At least, the National Month Long whatever is not to blame. I can't recall a time when calling oneself a "writer" ever had significance. The whole phenomenon of people despising the event smells of elitism to me. Novel-writing has been in trouble for a long time, friends, and blaming this event seems to be a lazy form of scape-goating.

Begin elitist backlash... NOW!

I disagree

I find the above negative reactions to NaNoWriMo baffling. It seems unlikely that a less popular form, like poetry, would get the same kind of reaction. Does it cheapen great poetry that there are people who write crappy poetry? No. Genres are deep; better, I think, to encourage people to work in that medium than to close them off.

Also, I don't think it's analogous to McDonald's workers saying they're gourmet chefs: it's like them saying they prepare food for a restaurant, which is absolutely accurate. Is the food the same type or quality as something at a 4-star restaurant? Probably not, but the workers don't pretend it is, and the differences are clear to anyone. So if the biggest concern is people bragging beyond their talent level, then I think that's a ridiculous reason to decry NaNoWriMo. I hardly think a few more amateur writers are going to cause people to roll their eyes when people say they're a writer!

I know the emphasis on quantity over quality rubs some people the wrong way, and makes people think that only bad writing will take place, but I think it has a lot of merit. Writing takes practice, and while some of that can only happen with careful thought and editing, a lot of it is just putting words on paper, getting used to your own voice, and having enough fun so that you keep it up. That is the part of NaNoWriMo that I think is cool, and worthy of encouragement.

To NaNoWriMo or Not ?

I've been writing poetry and songs on guitar & piano since I was 12. But my family would of wanted me to 'get a real job' (although they deny such pressure). Once I submitted a poem to be included in an anthology and paid a small amount of money for this. My father sounded a lot like Eric when he chided me for 'falling victim' to a scam... when he never read the poem. Since then, I now work in the medical field and have been paid on multiple occasions for technical writing . I also experienced years of worthwhile effort rewriting my doctoral thesis, but I'm very pleased with the final work on metacognition and diabetes self-management (yes, it was published in 2001). But I am sad to say my father's elitism affected my creative muse... I have 20 years of creative writing starts sitting hidden on my computer. None have been submitted anywhere. But this past month (2011), I actually had one of my patients tell me about National Novel Writing Month. And since I had not heard of this (can't you tell, I'm not really a writer)... it struck me as a fun thing to do. For once, I might be on time for the starting gate. Imagine my surprise that this blog was the very first one I read about NaNoWriMo ... and I haven't even checked out the official website yet. But since I believe that making an effort is more important than quantity or getting published... I will be participating this year. And I will be encouraging others to do so.

Losing significance? Huh?

The first time (of many times) I heard someone refer to themselves as a novelist was my freshman year of college, from another freshman who had a trunk novel he'd been working on for two years. He worked on it for the next five years. Possibly he's still working on it. More likely it's still in that trunk. There's never been a shortage of aspiring writers who jump the gun and CALL themselves writers or talk about the book they've written, and if NaNoWriMo came to a permanent end tomorrow there would STILL be no shortage of aspiring writers who talk big but haven't actually been published. Not to worry, though, because if NaNoWriMo ends I'm sure you and other easily threatened writers would still find plenty of other people to blame for the trivialization of novel-writing.

And do you honestly know how

And do you honestly know how many people realize that NaNoWriMo even exists? Not enough for the greater part of the population to begin rolling their eyes over somebody calling themselves a writer (which, by the way, I've yet to notice. Everyone I tell always appears wildly impressed that I "write for fun.") This whole "quantity, not quality" thing is just to help us get something on the page, but we do edit it later.

Have you ever read the manuscript of a professional novelist? It's certainly not error-free. In fact, their often chock full of grammatical, spelling, and plot errors. That's why they re-write three or four times, and then have their editor go over it. Those of us who are serious about writing, and I'm assuming that only somebody who truly loves writing would be insane enough to take part in NaNoWriMo in the first place, will edit the novels we've written so that, in the end, we shape these mounds of ugly sentences and comma splices and bizarre word choices into something beautiful (unless it's unsalvageable, in which case we drop it, pretend it never happened, and wait for next year.), and thus your argument about the time it takes professionals to make a pristine novel does not stand.

'Writers' vs 'Novelists'

One thing I feel I out to point out: anyone who's hobby it is to write is a writer. If they get a book published, they are a novelist. I hate that there are so many pretentious people out there like you who try so hard to define what a writer is, just so you can discourage Joe Public from ever aspiring to make something out of what might have started out as a mere hobby or interest, but it now their dream. Writing is for everyone, whether you like it or not.

This is a valid argument,

This is a valid argument, where the original post was not. I absolutely see where you're coming with this and yes, there are young people who will always think they've 'earned' something that perhaps they haven't just yet - but this is a problem that society has always had. How about kids who say they're in a band? You just KNOW it's in their basement, and the sound is reminiscent of screeching kittens. When it comes to young people calling themselves writers, it's not too hard to ascertain whether they're published or not, and the average person knows enough to make the distinction - so the purity of the profession is intact. Humans won't stop knowing good writing from poor just because there's more of the latter. Let them have their fun, and if the self-proclaimed 'writer' you're speaking to is under, say, 25 years old, then be patient. Youth will be youth.

Being a 16-year-old with a novel on her desk, I disagree.

Just because someone is young does not mean that they cannot write. Personally, I've been a published author since my freshman year in a book that the Historical Society of my state uses as a modern bible of folks who are under-appreciated for their work. I write at a collegiate level; I've been taking college-level English since early this year for a reason. I have written a book. That book is used by city officials. I am a writer. It doesn't mean I'm a good one. (I say this because I know that there is always room for me to improve on what I've been doing. Every writer should know that they must continuously improve themselves.)

Since when are a writer's "painstaking efforts" perfect and "error-free, plot-continguous... and high-quality writing" the first moment they're finished? I'm willing to bed some of the greatest authors on the NYT bestsellers' list had their manuscript tossed back multiple times marked up in red. Nonetheless, in my case, I'm always reading, and planning, and writing: NaNoWriMo comes as a welcome yearly challenge. I know for a fact that I will do numerous re-writes on my current novel. And, by the life of me, I will get it published. Granted, my past works in NaNo haven't been serious. This year, though, I'm starting a planned trilogy. At this point, my work during this month has just been getting my thoughts down to reach that word count goal.

It's the roughest of the drafts that will escape me, and I realize that, but you seemingly do not understand that I have the capacity to edit my own work, or that I do not have peers who also write and read as avidly as myself. What you are implying is that anyone under 18 years of age is incompetent and cannot bring themselves to any challenge, such as this, and come out with a good manuscript in the end, even if it requires a re-write. I have been called "an intuitive, spritely poet" and "a fine author prospect." Oh, and might I add, my father, an English major in college, read my work and said it was a collegiate level poem. I was in seventh grade. Though I realized that poetry and prose are not one and the same, my intelligence in the field of writing has only been increasing since I started writing in sixth grade. Your post implies that then, my writing wasn't even worthy of your elitist definition of the word. Does your definition mean that one who calls themselves a writer must be published? A bestseller? Does this mean that Emily Dickinson wasn't a writer until after she'd died?

I feel as if everyone forgets about the fact that December is considered NaNoFiMo and January is NaNoEdMo. On top of that, no one remembers the opening clause given in September, "You may do as much pre-writing as you'd like, just no actual starting on the story itself until November."

I found and find NaNo quite

I found and find NaNo quite fun and enjoyable. It's about the experience. Everything in life doesn't have to be so serious. I don't think it devalues anything.

Having said that ...

I would criticise the streak in nanowrimo which encourages the idea that writing is a communal activity. Writing is a solitary vice, and there is no excuse for any creative writing course or workshop which might lead anyone to think otherwise. I have been a member of only one club of people who write - the Crime Writers' Association, though I too detest the expression "writer" - but since you don't get in unless you have published, the conversation will not be about craft, or technique, or any such stuff.

As for what happens after you have written, a book is not a child that you will raise through infancy, through orthodontics and college applications, and it won't give you grandchildren, though you might get a spin-off with a radio interview or an article which exploits it.
Writing is more like dropping that particular offspring in the dirt to make its own way in the world and going off to beget another.

A First Time NaNoer

I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, and I loved it. I never thought that I was writing the great American novel and I know that what I have written is going to require massive amounts of editing, but I do not think that I am degrading the work of 'actual writers' in any way. I am literally a writer because I have written something. I participated this year becuase I have had a story in my head for well over a year that was always the "If I ever wrote a book...". NaNoWriMo was the push that I needed to get from the thought to the action. It was comforting to know that there are tens of thousands of others out there who all had something to write, and were willing to actually write it. As a high school student, I found the experience wonderfully liberating becuase it was not done for a grade; there is no box to check on my college application. I was doing this for myself and the story, regardless of what other people had to say (or type) about it. Would I love to be published? Yes. Do I honestly believe that it is going to happen? No. I do believe that, with enough hard work editing, this could be the best thing that I have ever written and a major accoplishment. Do not look down on those of us who set a goal and acheived it.

Who the heck cares?

Okay, fine, you think nanowrimo trivializes novels, you think it makes people appreciate writers and novels less. That's all fine and dandy, but who the heck cares? I have participated, I enjoyed it, it got me to write past an intro, something I haven't had the motivation to do before. And you know what? If I enjoyed it, why does it matter? There are tons of people doing it, and I'm pretty sure your little blog thing isn't going to convince anyone who wants to do it to change their mind. I don't think less of writers. I don't consider myself a writer. Heck, I don't even go around telling people I've written a book. I just know I got a good experience out of it, I had fun, I did something I haven't done before, and I fully intend to do it again. And your little rant isn't going to change mine, or anybody's, mind. All is does is show that you only care about yourself. You don't care about all the people who feel like they've achieved something, you don't care about the people who have found joy through this, made friendships, and just had an all around good experience. You only care about the fact that you think it "trivializes novels". And let me ask you a question. Can you honestly say that you've written fifty thousand words in a month? Even if they aren't that great. Fifty thousand words. It's a lot. So, maybe you shouldn't bad mouth something that gives people joy, just because you don't know what it is really all about. Maybe you should actually try it once, and then you can talk.

"Solitary vice"???

If you think you can achieve great literary works by locking yourself away and shutting out people, you're about as far off as you can be. I tried it - and found it to be a struggle. I couldn't keep myself on task. Now that I have made friends with other writers (through Nano and other) I find the experience of writing to be a greater joy than ever - and I've been writing since I was a very young child. Secondly, my guess is, your works have people in them. Much as it is a detestable task, creating realistic characters is only achievable if you actually go out and socialise.

And I think several people have missed the idea of the "50000 word novel". The novel is not complete at fifty thousand words. For many, it has barely started. But to ask beginner writers to try and hit a full-length novel of 80, 90, or 100 thousand words in a month would be ridiculous.

Nano both encourages people who don't think they could manage to write anything if they tried it as a weekend hobby, and it shows the average person just how much effort goes into a novel. If only *everyone* could think of Nano as a positive tool for educating and helping, rather than as a time waster.

Right On Eric!

I have to say. I am 100 % with you.

What a lot of your don't seem to understand is that writers are facing a public perception issue each and every day.

I am a writer (technical, not fiction, which means I've probably written a help file, or FAQ or user guide that you own, at least a part of it) and what I do takes a lot of education, and skill. I have no doubt, being friends with several published novelists, that what they do also requires a lot of skill, if you want to do it well.

But, there are so many people who are 'hobby writers' or 'writers on the side' that people have a hard time seeing writer as a valid career path anymore. They devalue it because they believe that writing as a profession is the same as writing an e-mail or a memo and it is not.

Just to give you an idea, a writer who is doing there job is:

Before writing
- Done extensive research into the topic.
- Most likely done interviews, even if you don't see a quote in the piece.
- Found the hook.
- Written a query letter (the pitch), and in the case of a novelist prepared their sample.
- Found a publication who is interested in printing it.
- Negotiated due date, length and copyright terms.

During Writing
- Managed the level of the reader, both their reading level, and understanding of this topic.
- Managed the size of both individual lines and paragraphs. (This sounds silly to an outsider, but it is a large factor in readability)
- Dealt with proper attribution of sources (unless they wish to remain unknown).
- Ensured that the pacing of the piece is not too slow, or fast, in order to maintain reader interest.
- Dealt rules on English grammar that, if you ever knew them, are probably long forgotten. (Like the instances when split infinitives are OK, and when they are not).
- Adhered to the style guide of the publication. This can be a well known style: APA, MLA, CMS, NY Times, or a special guide that this publication has developed for itself.
- Self edited or re-written.

This process is repeated for each and ever work a professional writer produces. A novelist, may get to back off on research if they create an entirely new world, but then they have to create a world from scratch, and that is not a simple or short thing to do.

People who devalue our craft and chosen profession by implying that anyone can do it in a month, are just perpetuating the same point of view, that writers are hobbyists not professionals, and that is insulting.

Would you like me to come do your taxes? No, you want an accountant. How about defend you in court? No, you want a lawyer. How about treat your illnesses? Oh, you want a doctor. Because when you suggest that 'Hobby Novels' are a great idea, then you are suggesting that writers should allow these people to be counted as equals, and that is an inaccurate comparison.

P.S. - Just because Eric has to constantly defend his point of view, does not mean that he explained it badly, just that you are so deeply entrenched in the idea that 'anyone can be a writer' that you cannot pull your head from the sand to see things clearly. Tell me, what are you publishing credits?