NaNoWriMo: A Full-Throated Defense

This is national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo), which isn’t something I’ve ever participated in, mainly because I write fiction year round and don’t need any extra incentive. What has struck me this year is that there are such strong opinions AGAINST it. Even purported supporters often give NaNoWriMo participants the back of their hand – suggesting that these people are delusional, they’re churning out garbage, they don’t realize how hard writing is, they give agents and editors headaches, they’re unrealistic about the prospects of instantly earning millions of dollars, they’ve turned writing novels into a lark, they should be READING and not writing. I won’t link to these articles to give them any more traffic than they deserve, and because I’m trying to stay positive here.

But to answer each of those criticisms I say:

So what?

We have democratic voting system for a reason. Take a close look at a single voter and you think this is crazy, how can we let this idiot decide? Multiply that ignorance by the number of people voting and you almost feel ill. But abstract yourself from that voter, think about the alternatives, and you’re left thinking, what a wonderful crazy system that lets everyone in on the game, this is so much better than the alternative. Same thing with the jury pool. You don’t have to spend much time picking a jury before you start wondering if we should just flip coins instead. But then you meet a horrible judge and you think thank god this guy doesn’t have any more power than he already does.

Look, I may go through life without ever reading a novel written during NaNoWriMo. I don’t care! I support it anyway! And not because I think the act of writing a novel is any better than playing the piano or building a bookshelf or learning to cook Indian food or binge-watching Game of Thrones. All worthy endeavors! If a few people turn into real novelists, fantastic! If a few others get frustrated and decide never to read a work of fiction ever again, that’s okay too. If (as I suspect happens most often) people scratch an itch they’ve always had, and in the meantime learn more about the process, have fun exercising their brain in a certain way, gain new respect for the authors they love, feel like they’re part of a community of people undertaking the same thing, and have the satisfaction of someone completing a diet or an exercise routine, then that’s fine too.

I can’t find the quote, but I think Tolstoy once said that the difference between being a professional writer and being a concert violinist is that every amateur thinks they can write as well as the professional, but nobody thinks they can just pick up a violin and star in an orchestra. So maybe NaNoWriMo leads to some self-awareness. I hope it’s not too painful to get the wake-up call, if that’s the result. I suspect most people can handle it.

Final word to the critics of NaNoWriMo: last year there were 300,000 participants. Last night there were 9 million people watching CSI. (900,000 watched a repeat episode of Hoarding.) Enjoy the NaNoWriMo buzz. Or ignore it. It is not a threat to you.

And for all the NaNoWriMoers, good luck! Enjoy!

Onward and upward!

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