National Novel Writing Month Redux
Three years ago, I wrote a post on this site called "Why I Hate National Novel Writing Month and Why You Should Too". Every year since then, as November draws near, that post is inundated with angry comments from NaNoWriMo'ers clamoring about my elitism, egotism, negativity, cynicism, bitterness, pretension, and at least in one case there was an implied comparison between (my impression of) NaNoWriMo'ers and terrorists ("notify Homeland Security!"). Not to mention the various trolls who simply hurled profanities at me, comments which I then deleted. The post has become the single most visited and the many-times-over most commented one on this site. There was even a reporter from an in-flight airline magazine who interviewed me about the subject a couple years back, and asked such insightful questions as "Why do you care? How does NaNoWriMo affect you, anyway?"
Most of these people missed the point, but not all of them. And I must admit, what seemed so obvious three years ago became less apparent under the barrage of comments from people who genuinely did NaNoWriMo to improve their writing and to develop as a writer, and not merely for the sake of having done it. It was especially hard for me to object to the kids, the teenagers taking their first bold steps into fiction. Who was I to discourage them?
Perhaps I can give some perspective. In the original post, I compared NaNoWriMo to marathons. The New York City Marathon—sorry, I mean the ING New York City Marathon—took place yesterday, the runners (and walkers) huffing right past my apartment all morning to the cheers of the crowd, the Dunkin' Donuts downstairs giving out free signs with pens so people could write encouraging messages on it underneath their corporate logo. For months now, an advertising campaign all over town for some company I can't be bothered to recall displayed its sponsorship of the marathon by showing pictures of people running through the boroughs with slogans like "Hello Queens, Goodbye Doubts" and "Hello Brooklyn, Goodbye Issues", as if the marathon were some kind of psychic panacea that would solve all your problems. And all I could think is why do people do this to themselves? It's one thing to run 26 miles, which you can do any time on your own if you want to. It's another thing to take part in some kind of massive corporate spectacle where people run around in foam Dunkin Donuts cups. I am honestly and sincerely baffled by the appeal. But then I suppose there's something inherent about the groupthink, about the need to be validated by participating in something larger than oneself, that I distrust, and maybe this is simply rooted in issues of my own. Something about the cheer leading, the "You can do it! We're all doing it with you! Hooray for doing it! Doing it will make you a better person! Everyone should do it!" attitude of both NaNoWriMo and the ING New York City Marathon just fundamentally turns my stomach, and when I hear people talking about these things being "fun" and "rewarding" I feel like they're from a different planet from me. Even though I obviously don't object to people challenging themselves and pushing their limits, and I do honestly respect those who earnestly go into NaNoWriMo to improve their craft and develop as writers.
The irony is this: I've just been laid off from my day job, part of the process of outsourcing my entire group and most of my department to cheap contractors in India. Which means that this month I'm going to be writing full time, and after my own experiments with speed writing I hope to write considerably more than 50,000 words this month, and complete the first draft of my own unfinished manuscript. So, in a way, I will be actually participating in National Novel Writing Month, though I won't be registering at the website or anything.
Funny how things work out.
Correction: Originally this post stated the the ING New York City Marathon was 22 miles. It's actually 26 miles (26.219 miles, to be precise). Thanks to Gahlord Dewald for the tip.