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.

Comments

On the other hand, if you

On the other hand, if you took away the corporate sponsorship component, what's so wrong about cheering other people on? Have you run 26 miles lately? I haven't. I don't intend to anytime soon. But I recognize that running a marathon is a pretty sizable achievement. Not something that is done every day. And you'd have to either be a bit of an asshole or a cynic not to offer a few modest cheers to those who you are observing. If humans are the subjects of your hosannas, then you're not necessarily complicit in the evil corporate empire. And you're not necessarily coddling anybody. You're just cheering on another nifty human feat. That's not groupthink. It's just being nice and respectful. The way that most people tend to be at such events.

I respectfully suggest, Mr. Rosenfield, that you unfurl your energies at a more worthy target of groupthink. Perhaps you might assess the angry and desperate groupthink that spawned last night's regrettable election results.

I think last nights

I think last nights regrettable election results had less to do with groupthink and more to do with Bill Thompson's inability to run a good campaign and Bloomberg's ability to spend a quadrillion dollars out-of-pocket. And he didn't even win by the margins everyone thought he would. But I digress.

And yeah, I don't object to individual people cheering runners, whatever. I just wish the marathon wasn't being consumed by ridiculous corporate nonsense and self-help language. Much like NaNoWriMo is becoming.

Another perspective?

When I stumbled upon your previous National Novel Writing Month posting, I read it, understood your perspective, politely (and quietly) disagreed with it, and moved on unaffected. This is because I'm not one of the one-off writers you wrote about in that post. I'm a serious writer with several writing projects.

Two of these projects were completed under the deadline provided by the NaNoWriMo folks, and I was able to exercise my craft in a way I'd never done before. It's because of this that I look forward to every November that is to follow, mainly because it already feels like a tradition, even though it's only been two years since I started doing it.

However, getting to my point, I DESPISE the cheerleading on that site. It feels like the staff are elementary school teachers offering manufactured 'cookie' encouragements to a bunch of kids. Sure, I think, some of the participants ARE kids, but not so young as to buy into the 'You can do it! You're the best!' bull. Most of the participants are adults. Shut up and let us work, for goodness sake.

These are all impulse reactions, though, and once I start thinking about it, I realize that, young and old, amateur / 'one-off' writers out there need that kind of encouragement. NaNoWriMo and the Marathon are both open to anyone wishing to participate, and therefore you're going to see people who would otherwise not be signing up. You're going to get people who have no idea how to stretch, pace themselves, breathe, swing their arms in a marathon; you're going to get people who have no idea how to outline, pace themselves, focus, construct proper sentences in a novel. So I think that the cheerleading and handholding are necessary for some of the people involved... but not for me.

I hate that aspect of the organization, but I know myself as a serious and talented writer who doesn't need the balloons and cake for my venture. I'm not going to (to quote many posters on the website) 'buy myself something special as a reward for completing it.' I'm not going to 'get it bound once and just show it to my friends when they come over.' I'm not going to use the book as a trophy. I'm going to edit it and try to get it published, just like a lot of writers involved.

So, just like when I read your first post and decided it didn't apply to me, I respectively offer that as an alternative perspective. You're a talented, serious writer. The cheerleading isn't directed at you and me. It's only there for the people that need it.

Your Insulting Comments

I disagree with you most wholeheartedly. But, since I am not an uncivilized person, I will not hurl curses your way, and instead argue my side in a manner not unlike a debate.

First of all, I find it throughly disgusting that you feel that letting people, ( many of which are writing their novel because they love to write, and want to share their novel with teachers or friends) will only result in the world being littered with terrible manuscripts. What is wrong with letting people write because they think it is fun? I am a serious writer, one who tries to publish work, but I still find it a bit more exhilarating to start at midnight on October thirty-one, knowing that thousands of people around the world are typing in sync. During November the forums come alive, and you can gleefully celebrate milestones on your word count, hand out sporks and tissues to novelists who are bleeding on the sidewalk in 'NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul', find names for characters, and write (or at least start, if your novel needs to be long) a novel.

How does this affect you, anyways? With all due respect, you seem like a cranky old codger who's afraid of the competition of thousands of novelist, and who can't find anything better to do than complain and worry.

Re: "Insulting" comments

NaNoWriMo emphasizes that the "contest," if you will, is not a competition. As long as you have 50K or more words by November 30th you're a "winner."

And you can't be sure that everyone who "wins" is typing on November first midnight local time. It's easy to copy and paste items in a word processing document to get 50K and a lousy printable certificate well before November first, let alone November 30. Hell, you could start writing on All Hallow's Eve, finish a day or two later and NaNoWriMo would never know it.

Personally I want nothing to do with NaNoWriMo because it is too much stress for me to write a 50K "novel" in a month--and I refuse to take other peoples' characters, plots, settings, etc. while the event is going on to complete my novel; otherwise my novel doesn't make sense to me. Looking at the forums distressed me with the number of people completing their "novels" (or novels) in under a week or so. Next November I plan to do something more worthwhile with my time instead of writing something that gives me anxiety attacks.

"And you can't be sure that

"And you can't be sure that everyone who "wins" is typing on November first midnight local time. It's easy to copy and paste items in a word processing document to get 50K and a lousy printable certificate well before November first, let alone November 30."

Yes you can, but... So what? If someone copy/pastes 50k words just to gain a printable certificate, he must have serious personal issues and that will surely not affect anyone around the world. If he/she started on the 1st of January and end on the 30th November that person still finished what he/she was writing! In fact thousands of Nano-writers claim that they use November to finish story's that the were not able to finish. It is not like they are stealing a gold medal!

That's it!

I found your other post and commented on it and only after that I came to this one.
To be honest you find many offensive comments against your post and you find many offensive comments against Nano-writers.

Personalty, I participated in NaNoWrimo the last 2 years non-officially. This year I decided to do it officially and found a huge group of people writing in my language that exchange ideas. From 172 of them, only 5 or 6 intend to be published. So it is not a plague of one-off novels that are born there, it is just people that like to write and that encourage each other to keep going. Since I don't have the motivation of selling what I write, it is easy for me just to quit and not write and that is where NaNoWrimo comes in, we motivate each other to reach the goal and I loved the feeling of finishing it 2 times even if it was non-officially. That feeling drove me to spend the following moths adding to those 50k words until I got to an end.

There are even people from my country writing in English and it will never be great writing since it is not even remotely similar to our language.
This year I can really see how my writing improved and how must faster I am able to turn an idea into words.
My prizes are those ideas with a "the end" and NaNoWrimo was the kick in the butt I needed to find this new private/non-commercial passion.

"I do honestly respect those who earnestly go into NaNoWriMo to improve their craft and develop as writers."

This quote changes allot of the the idea left by your other post, where I found the title have been a bad choice of words.

I wish you the best of luck, both finishing and getting that work published.

I understand your points, but...

I came across this while trying to find more information pertaining to NaNoWriMo on google, much as you said most would. I read through all three links that I saw about your opinions on NaNoWriMo, and I can see that you've made some very valid points.

However, as a teenager (I might as well point that out) and an absurdly young writer, I found the concept of NaNoWriMo intriguing. I've been writing since I was (I do not kid you) three or four years old; the proof is a small, torn piece of paper that I saw in the corner of the house with something of a storyline scrawled onto it in a nearly illegible hand (Something about Len and Rin, screaming, a knife somewhere, and 'noisy gravel'). I've also taken part in online roleplay threads for years (silently fuming at the terrible grammar that I saw in others' posts and, later, in my own posts) and I've been a (yes, jeer at me if you please) fanfiction writer since I took an overpowering interest in books, or more accurately, the smallest details in books that are only mentioned in the off-hand. I've also been creating original ideas since before I can remember, but I've never had the incentive to actually write something down on paper, or, more accurately, to type something out on a word document.

When I was introduced to NaNoWriMo by a friend of mine, I was immediately taken aback. 'There's an opportunity to attempt writing a 50,000 word novel in a MONTH? Absurdity!' and I proceeded to avoid it for years. However, recently (In fact, just a few months ago) I found the real opportunity in trying something such as this. If not to write a full-length novel, to at least get started. My writing capacity in an hour or two has massively improved to the point where I could easily write at least 1,700 words in the time provided.
Yes, my writing is probably obnoxiously repetitive, grammatically degrading, and completely worthless to any publisher with half a brain, but I'll have at least finished the rough draft, right? I'd have done it, and isn't that what I wanted? With the mess of a story that I'd made, I could go through the process of editing (Which, as I've read Patrick Rothfuss describe it, is similar to tearing a house down and rebuilding it as a mansion from the scraps left over) and fixing all of the unavoidable mistakes.
Who knows? Maybe I'll even change the story all together. Maybe I'll hate most of it, approve of some of it, and add what I liked to my rarely edited Document of Successes.

I've fantasized about someday becoming an author, as most readers my age do, and in the past few months I've noticed the insanity in hoping for such a thing.
However, while I read the books in YA fiction (Isn't that my age group? Shouldn't I enjoy it?) I notice that nearly all of them are the same exact storyline. It's a love triangle, the main character (most likely a really pretty, albeit ignorant, girl with no self-esteem), is cast into depression because of some traumatizing event and needs the guy (Some incredibly hot, conceited, and snarky jerk, i.e. Jace Lightwood/Morgenstern/Herondale) to bring her back to life (i.e. Evanescence... no, I'm kidding, I love them). The dry, sorry plot is hardly noticed, and when it finally gets some attention, it's only for a good 50 pages or so (i.e. Hush, Hush) before the rest of the 400 page book is hopeless moaning over the guy that 'just won't love me...' (i.e. any said YA novel...) even though, secretly (unbeknownst to us), he IS in love with her but can't show it because really he's a vampire...
Actually, that turned into Twilight before I could stop myself. Twilight is one of the best examples of horrible YA fiction- but there are others: The Hunger Games, The Mediator, Evermore, The Mortal Instruments... all of it and more is, mostly, love triangle trash. At least the Hunger Games has something of a plot in its first book, but, again, it becomes mostly love triangle trash in the last two installments.
I, as you may have gathered, hate this.

So, I want to write a novel with a little less trash and a little more substance. I'm working at it, and NaNoWriMo is probably the best place I have to start, is it not? I can write down my story the best I can in a month, and later, I can edit it, change it, make it BETTER than the trash it is if I can muster the skill to do so.

I suppose the sum of my points is this: NaNoWriMo may be corrupted by people who want to copy and paste Wikipedia articles. NaNoWriMo may be, for the most part, not worth the time and struggle it takes- after all, who can write a decent novel in a month? But NaNoWriMo is also an opportunity for a new fiction writer to finally get ideas down somewhere, to make a start, to at least believe, for a month, in the dream of maybe one day becoming an author. NaNoWriMo is, all in all, fun. Like a marathon, as you say, you feel worth something when you've finished. Like a marathon, you feel like you could do anything, and why not do the impossible and make your book actually worth something to others that aren't yourself or your immediate family?

I suppose that's all I really have to say.

Anonymous Youth

Regarding the novella-length post by the young Anonymous, I admire your enthusiasm, but your writing brings up one of the problems I have with the whole NaNoWriMo concept. You demonstrate an ability to generate a sizable number of works, but careful writing and re-reading of your post could help pare it down to your main point. Which, by the way, you summarized by saying, "I suppose that's all I really have to say." A simple lack of words following the previous paragraph would have implied the same. P.S. DON'T use all caps to make your point. Crutch.