NaNoWriMo Under Attack…By Imbeciles

by V

The management would like to apologize for not running this during November. Trying to write novels really does get in the way of managing a blog.


via Flickr

As many of you know, there are a good number of NaNoWriMo participants among the Subterfuge members. I never really thought people who were disinterested in this event paid it much attention. Because, well…its something to do for fun and for novelty (no pun intended). By adhering to their guidelines, you can write that novel (or novella, really) that you’ve always planned on writing. Or, at least, you can attempt. Rather than putting it off. They cheer you on, you get motivational e-mails from established and well-known authors, there are write-ins at libraries, cafes, bookstores, and other places. Other participants cheer you on. There are helpful forums right on the official site for you to get encouragement, ideas, and whatnot. People work together, having word wars in chat to see who can write the most in spurts for a specific amount of time until you adjourn for another day. It’s a community with thousands of members. Some finish, some don’t. Some write brilliantly, others mediocre, and yes some people write crap. Some people do get published, others do not. Nobody is promised that they will be published. Nobody is promised that they will write an awesome novella. They are there just to try, for fun, for sport, out of boredom, to prove they can achieve a finished novella, or in hopes to really get published. But, no promises are made. And, everyone going into NaNoWriMo is aware exactly of what they’re going into. Every amateur author is already aware they are an amateur, but they try because they can and this is a perfect opportunity to do so where you can feel as if you are not alone in your attempt.

However, there are apparently some people who seek to disparage these authors. Who seek to tear down NaNoWriMo itself. Why do they do this? Well, I don’t know. I haven’t got that answer. I think its an awful lot of time to take out of your day to tear down something you profess to think is a waste of time in and of itself, anyway. But, everyone is entitled to their opinion. No matter how poorly written and researched.

One such person happens to be a Salon contributor, by the name of Laura Miller. I do not usually bother to make commentary on what authors of other sites say. But, as you here on Subterfuge know…I do once in a while lower myself and alleviate my boredom/amusement/outrage (not necessarily in that order) by doing so. And here I will do it again.

Ms. Miller has written a piece recently on NaNoWriMo. And, as you can probably gather by now, it was not a very nice piece. However, in addition to not being a very nice piece, it’s also a very badly written and poorly researched piece. This woman obviously has a contempt for National Novel Writing Month. That is her prerogative. But, she is not writing her opinions on her own personal blog, instead she is inflicting them on a site like Salon and its readership. At first, it seems like she has a point, even if this is not a popular opinion. However, as you continue to read, you can kind of see a disconnect and hypocrisy going on here.

She thinks NaNo is a waste of time, and not worth the time and effort people put into it or that places like stores and libraries and cafes devote to making write-ins for it. But, yet, she spends her time right now on just that! She’s giving it credibility and she’s spreading the knowledge of its existence to those who might not have known about it already, giving NaNo free publicity. All while simultaneously saying that it is a waste of time, a terrible idea, and a wart on the face of Legitimate Writing. Okay, I embellished a bit, but that is what her piece seems to be saying to me. So, then, isn’t it a bit hypocritical of her to be devoting her own time to the promotion of (purposeful or not) NaNoWriMo, to giving it credibility, to spreading the knowledge of its existence, and to do all of those things on a site like Salon? Granted, its her opinion. She can post it anywhere she wants and if Salon wants to give her space to post this poorly written and researched piece on their site, that’s between her and Salon. But, that does not mean that it isn’t hypocritical of her.

Now, onto the piece itself. What exactly is the beef I have with it? Well, like I said, its poorly written and poorly researched. It reads more like something you would find on someone’s personal Blogger account. Not on a site like the one it appears on.

Its poorly written because it is sparse. Its short. That alone doesn’t make it bad, but the subject matter generates a plethora of research material for her to look into. So, the fact that its this short coupled with the more or less non-existent research makes it a sad piece of writing indeed. She is making herself out to be exactly what she’s admonishing the many NaNoWriMo participants for being.

I answered most of what she seemed to be complaining about in the beginning of this post, explaining why people participate and what they get out of it, even if they do not finish or get published. One thing that I did not mention, however, is that Ms. Miller thinks that everyone who participates in NaNo has the intention of doing so in hopes of getting published. This is not true. Many people write for practice, fun, or both. They can do that anytime, and they probably do, but why not participate in NaNo with their friends and make a game out of it since NaNo is there, anyway? Or, even make new friends! How is that a bad thing? Why would you want to get rid of something that does that for people? Just because they can do these things without NaNo? How ridiculous. Either way, my point is that not everyone participates in National Novel Writing Month because they hope to be published. Despite what Ms. Miller seems to think, some people have no desire to be published. They don’t want the fame, or the hassle, or the disappointment.

When I say that she has not researched this, I say that because she gives very little evidence of what she’s saying. Apparently, according to her all editors and publishers cringe at the thought of having to look over a NaNo manuscript, and even advise people to leave that out of their letters completely. Which people are saying this? She doesn’t say. How many of them are there saying that? She doesn’t say. Why should I take her word for it, then? Perhaps these people, if they exist, are just the snobs out there. Maybe they base their opinions and advice, not on the actual poor quality of the majority of NaNo authors’ work that comes to them, but because NaNoWriMo itself might not be what many of people in that profession consider “professional,” yet. Its true, you have to be careful what information you give out to potential editors an publishers. If they think you are not really serious about your work, they will assume it is trash and put it in File 13 (the proverbial trash bin). That doesn’t mean that what they toss away or off to the side, never to be looked at again, was bad. I wonder how many novels have gotten that treatment that would’ve turned out to be best sellers. Stephen King himself tossed away Carrie, thinking it was trash, until his wife convinced him to go ahead and have it published. Carrie happens to be just one out of many of Stephen King’s MANY successes. And it happens to be a book I enjoy. I feel sad just thinking about how I might have been deprived of it just because the writer himself thought it was bad. I wonder how many similar mistakes have occurred because of presumptuous editors and publishers who cannot be bothered to so much as look over something that crosses their desk because the person or the manuscript’s place of origin is not what they consider serious.

Further, the writers she has quoted as saying that the majority of amateur writers who come up to them and want them to read their manuscripts and tell them what they think (such as the quote from Ann Bauer), aren’t even about NaNoWriMo participants, but about amateur authors in general, ones that sound as if they’re very nervous to be around their favorite authors and are trying to say what they think make them sound like serious, professional writers. Its normal to try to impress your favorite author and to try to share with them a talent, to feel close to equal to them. Most writers don’t view themselves as celebrities and rather dislike this tendency from fans. And most fans are aware of this. But, it doesn’t help he initial “OMG do you know who you ARE?!” reaction (although not always quite so dramatic) once you get into speaking distance with your favorite author.

And, again, I would like to point out that these authors don’t appear to be talking about NaNo participants. And since her piece is about NaNoWriMo and not writing in general, I would expect her to give quotes that have something to do with NaNo, not amateur writers in general.

Further, it doesn’t look like she’s done much (or any) surfing around on the official site, nor does it look like she’s checked out the site’s forums, or spoken to any of the participants. All of which are VERY easily done. Here, she’s completely dropped the ball on her research. She’s left out the most important parts! The participants themselves! They should have a say, don’t you think? Her opinion is hers, but it is one-sided, poorly expressed, and poorly researched. Just taking a look on the forums on the official site will prove that she’s obviously not even bothered, because it all seems to contradict the sweeping generalizations she’s expressed in this silly piece of hers.

From this, I come to a conclusion about her. She’s not too worried about the facts. At least, not in this case. She’s more worried about being right. If she includes information that contradicts her stance, she might be balanced and she might be credible, but she might have to take a look at her own opinion and others might not agree with the stance she’s taken. She doesn’t care about balance here. She doesn’t care about whether what she thinks is true or not. She’s just worried about being right. For some reason NaNoWriMo has earned a spot on her Hate List and she isn’t willing to do any real looking at it. I don’t know why this is. Maybe she tried NaNoWriMo herself at one point and it didn’t produce the desired result. Maybe not. Only she knows the answer to this and I don’t honestly care to take a lot of time to speculate.

Ms. Miller also seems to think that while writers will go on forever, readers are going to suddenly dry up. I disagree completely. As long as there are writers, there will be readers. And as long as there are readers there will be writers. NaNoWriMo does not harm reading or discourage it. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.

I agree that we should have more incentives for reading. And I think that she poses a wonderful suggestion that more people should challenge themselves to read outside of their usually preferred genre. However, getting rid of NaNoWriMo and other incentives to write (which my friend A and I both feel is just as important as incentives to read) will not suddenly force more incentives to read to pop up, nor is reading being harmed by the existence of incentives to write. But, it is true that there does appear, at least, to be a less reading incentives around. Maybe instead of getting rid of NaNoWriMo, someone should branch out and make NaNoReMo, as well.

In a way, NaNo is a dual incentive to write and to read, because many of the places that organize write-ins for participants are filled with books, namely libraries and bookstores. Getting people into those places more often is a good thing and an important thing and is its own incentive to read. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. More of one is not going to lead to the death of the other. Ms. Miller has allowed a good idea to be overshadowed by bad writing, bad research, broad generalizations and mischaracterizations. I would be quietly slipping down off of my high horse at this point, if I were her, and taking this as an opportunity to look more closely at what she is bashing.

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