Recently I got turned on to an old but rather grumpy piece by Laura Miller in Salon.com where she rails against the Nanowrimo project. According to her it is simply flooding the world with ‘crappy novels’ and that the “the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing”
My response to that is ‘wah, wah, wah, wah’. Some people find a reason to complain about everything. A friend of mine recently posted an article in the New York Times about the number of cupcake stores were depressing the writer as she rode the subway home from work. I can think of a lot of worse sites that were probably along that subway route in years passed most starting with the letter x in it. It’s cupcakes people. I don’t understand how that can possibly offend anyone!
The rest of Miller’s article advocates reading novels over writing them and she claims there is a ‘shortage of readers out there’. Perhaps this is true with men but I can’t think of a single adult woman that I know who doesn’t read for pleasure on occasion. Maybe they don’t read the highfalutin depressing snob-books I’m sure Miss Miller is a fan of but they read.
And since when did writing and reading become mutually exclusive concepts? I am confident that most of the people who dedicate a month to nanowrimo are spending a great deal of the year dedicated to reading. (She claims that people often say to her ‘Oh, I don’t have time to read. I’m just concentrating on my writing.’ I don’t know who she is spending time with because I can’t think of a single writer, or even blogger for that matter, that does not have a book they are currently reading.)
So let me just give a few defenses for why Nanowrimo is a good idea.
1. Nanowrimo gets you to finish an entire story. Most people when they begin to write get caught up in the details of a character or story arc and then either abandon the project or become frustrated and don’t move on to other details that might come more quickly. There is value in producing an entire book instead of pieces of a plot that you think might be fun someday. Even this year on a book I’m not thrilled with I will have a finished story and that is certainly worth more than a bunch of starts scribbled down and set aside.
2. Nanowrimo gets you to write every day. Some of us are super self-motivated and can exercise every day with out a team, sing for the pure love of music, and write diligently on our own. Some of us are also like me and days go by without doing any of those things, even though I love them. There is something about having a goal outside of myself whether it be an open water swim, a voice recital or nanowrimo that makes me work hard every day. Scripture says “the natural man is an enemy to God” and I think that can go for writing, reading, swimming or anything else. Human nature is lazy or maybe that’s just me…
3. Nanowrimo gets you in touch with others stories. In just the 2 years I have done nanowrimo I have made a lot of friends and enjoyed reading their stories. This includes a writing group, blogging/twitter friends, and local writers. I attended a writers conference in April that was both engaging and enriching and none of that would have happened without nanowrimo, so at the worst I made new friends and had a lot of fun and isn’t that what a hobby should do? I don’t see why Nanowrimo is any more hurtful than fishing, scrapbooking, embroidery or any other kind of hobby. I am sorry if editors have to read more ‘crappy novels’ because of Nanowrimo (a point Miller belabors. Poor, sad editors). That’s your job. I make spreadsheets all day and that’s not very exciting. Deal.
4. Nanowrimo helps the writer think about their own story. Are they telling the right story in his or her life? This was especially true for me last year as I used my life for the inspiration of my book. However, even this year there have been moments in my characters story arcs that have made me think about how I balance my time, what kind of friend I am, and how I can make Christmas more special. I just don’t see how that kind of introspection can be bad?
5. Nanowrimo allows me to finish something. This kind of goes along with #1 but I want to make a slightly different point. In my life, and the life of most adults, we do the same thing over and over again. That is certainly true with accounting and parenting and most other jobs I can think of. Even a really creative job like painting or sculpting in the end boils down to a certain routine repeated each day. I remember when I was in college and I would look at the syllabus and think ‘how am I ever going to do all of that’ and then the end of the semester would come and I had done it, and done pretty well at it. I almost never get that sensation any more and Nanowrimo gives that to me, and I think that is important.
So keep writing my friends and people like Laura Miller may think you are a narcissist but in the words of the king of narcissism, keep writing:
“Creating – that is the great salvation from suffering.”