How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept NaNoWriMo
Six years ago, I wrote an article about hating National Novel Writing Month, and starting every October since, like clockwork, the hate comments come pouring into that post, as new NaNoWriMo participants stumble upon my article through Google or whatever and feel the need to add their own vitriol to the pile. I even wrote another article where I looked at things in more perspective, said I saw some value in NaNoWriMo, and linked to it at the bottom of the first, but that was almost completely ignored.
So what was my problem? Why would I want to be a hater? My problem wasn't speed-writing. I even praised 24-hour-comic day in my original article, and later mentioned the 3 day novel challenge. With NaNoWriMo, though, I basically felt like the website of the (still new) writing event sent the wrong message; that it encouraged writing as a self-help tool rather than an art form, and worried about its comparisons to running a marathon. Writing fiction, I believed, is something you should do because you love it, not because you see it as a form of therapy or because you have it on some bucket list. Also, I worried about fiction becoming like poetry-- almost only read by people who write it, and thus culturally irrelevant.
Since then, a number of successful authors have come out of the NaNoWriMo project, like Cat Valente and Erin Morgenstern, calling it valuable for them to get started. The fact is that with the rise of the Internet we're moving away from a culture where creators are on one side and audience is on the other, with huge, difficult to surmount barriers in between. The audience becomes creators and critics as well, consuming media and creating media become entangled and harder to separate. In other words, the future I feared is in fact coming to pass, but rather than spelling cultural irrelevancy, it's instead just what relevance looks like now.
If we're all creators, who cares if your motives aren't "pure", or if you're only going to do one, crappy novel and then give up? So what if your book is going to suck because you churned it out at top speed. Your first book would probably suck anyway even if you labored over it for five years (as I did with my first, sucky, unpublished book). I thought that NaNoWriMo was polluting the ecosystem, but it turns out the ecosystem has changed all on its own, and NaNoWriMo is just a small part of that larger story.
The notion of a nation of authors is a little scary, and it raises valid questions about how anyone can find an audience or make a living when the options are so vast and there's so much competition for people's time with other media. It's probably true that there's more people writing fiction than ever and it's never been more difficult to make a living as a writer of fiction. At the same time it's actually terribly exciting when you stop to think about all these people engaged in the craft of fiction, and maybe we'll find new avenues to support ourselves with new technology, leveraging fundraising platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo or trading in on the nascent gift economy. Who knows? But if there's one thing I've learned in my years on the Internet, it's that in the end you can't fight the future.