Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In which I tell Salon to go %^@& itself.

It's all fun and games until you expect someone else to read it.

Yeah, I know, it's NaNoWriMo and I should be writing a million words a minute, but instead I am here today because I have taken great umbrage at Laura Miller's recent Salon article, Better Yet, DON'T Write That Novel, in which she declares that NaNoWriMo is at best unnecessary, at worst a total waste of time and energy.

She's wrong.

Laura, you admit that the program is "an event geared entirely toward writers", and that you are "someone who doesn't write novels." So, with all due respect, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Laura recognizes that "[t]he purpose of NaNoWriMo seems laudable enough..."
Above all, it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.
And yet, she feels the need to rain on the parade of everyone who is trying NaNoWriMo by saying that "Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it's likely to produce more novels I'd want to read." (Oh, except for New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants.)

She talks about "the selfless art of reading" as compared to "the narcissistic commerce of writing". She says that "I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on."

I do see a reason to cheer them on.

Look, lady, you said that even if a WriMo -- as some of us call ourselves -- manages to get published, no one will read what we've written. (Oh, except for New York Times bestseller Sara Gruen.) And that's mostly true. The REASON you see people on Twitter complaining about bad and inexperienced writers prematurely submitting their novels for publication is that NO ONE WANTS TO REPRESENT OR PUBLISH THEM. If someone submits a GOOD novel that was written during NaNoWriMo, then the agents and editors don't complain. (Like, for example, the people who repped and published the New York Times bestseller Water for Elephants.) You may bitch about commerce, but the reason capitalism is supposed to work is that little thing called supply and demand, and if no one wants to read these books (no demand), then they won't actually hit the stream of commerce because no one will buy them. The market is not about to be flooded with 100,000 shitty novels, and your precious reader's eyes will not be marred by having to read the contents therein.

Laura says that these writers need no encouragement because,
Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species.
You're partly right, Laura. SUCCESSFUL writers are hellishly persistent. Plenty of other writers, however, fade away without you ever knowing about it. I don't think the world is harmed by 100,000 badly written first drafts, but I do think the world is a better place when people chase their dreams, if only for one month out of the year. I think 100,000 wanna-be writers who always said "some day" but never gave themselves the permission to try and to make mistakes would be a horrible shame, a waste of spirit that more than balances out the waste of paper you fear. (And by the way, there can be no "selfless" act of reading if we don't "selfishly" write the damn books for you.)

Anyone who actually reads the NaNoWriMo website will see that the people behind the program DO advocate revision: December is National Novel Finishing Month, and March is National Novel Editing Month. The people who write crap novels in November and try to submit them in December? They were going to do it anyway. In fact, if they didn't work up the energy to actually write a novel, they were going to be the ones sending letters to agents and publishers saying that they have an IDEA for a novel, and would the agent like to write it for them and split the profits? In short, NaNoWriMo does not create stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention. I doubt it even encourages the stupid, sloppy writers desperate for attention -- those writers were going to talk about their genius novel ideas whether they tried to execute them or not. Maybe trying to write 50,000 words actually humbles some of these would-be novelists, hmm?

Finally, Laura says that "I'm confident those novels [the ones worth reading] would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth."

I'm not so sure of that.

In October 2005, I first heard about NaNoWriMo. And it woke something for me. I had always had a clear focus on writing in my life... until I graduated college. Somehow, without anyone telling me, I got the idea that writing ended when real life began; I didn't pursue my MFA, therefore I was not going to be a writer as a career, therefore I stopped writing, even though I loved it. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could write anyway, even if I had another career entirely.

I wrote half the novel in November of that year, and took my sweet time finishing and revising it. I did my industry research. I wrote and revised my query letter. I have since gotten back into the writing classes that I loved as a college student, and I've had a number of short pieces published. I'm not in it for "the glory." (I mean, really, what glory? There's a starving artist stereotype for a reason.) I'm in it for the literature. I was always a reader. NaNoWriMo reminded me that I could also be a writer.

NaNoWriMo reminded me that there IS no perfect "some day," there's only today. It reminded me to write like little kids paint: with joy, and without self-consciousness. It reminded me that there's something I love to do that I should be practicing daily, that I should be learning to do better. It got my first novel written, and the dozen-plus agents who got my query letter and asked to see the full manuscript don't seem to think I wasted their time, even if they eventually said "no." (Full disclosure: some said no, some still haven't gotten back to me.)

So, when that novel finally gets published, let's see if anyone reads it. Let's see if anyone likes it. Let's see if some "selfless" readers maybe pay $8-24 bucks for it and have a perfectly lovely time as a result... if they enjoy a book that would not exist if not for NaNoWriMo. Let's see if my NaNo efforts -- which may have actually helped me change careers -- were a waste of anyone's time, or if maybe they make me a better mom because I'm not moping around the house, creatively unfulfilled because I forgot how to dive into something with bad financial odds and high emotional reward, just because it makes me happy.

To sum up: NaNoWriMo saved my life. Y'all at Salon can go screw.


  1. Well put. Thank you for the boost I needed to write for another half hour.

  2. *cheers*

    Completely agree. People that crap on NaNoWriMo just know they can't hack it.

    Readers are more sensitive than writers? Ha! Besides, what writer is not also a reader? NaNo is saving my life as a writer as we speak. I am right there with you Carrie!


  3. Hear! Hear!

    I am participating in my first NaNoWriMo, after saying I didn't have time the last two years... and I'm on day three, and still going. Can't wait for day four.

    Yet the LAST thing I'll be doing in December is submitting the novel anywhere. I'm a college English teacher, and I need to do what my students do: revise, revise, revise. (And then revise some more.)

    Assuming that a novel begun in this way cannot possible hold any value is rather obtuse. But she's perfectly free to not read mine when it's published.

  4. Wow. I love all the writer love :) Probably not what Laura had in mind when writing the article.

    Don't you love how verbose ignorant people are about something they admit they are not qualified to speak of. Really, how can you saw how good or bad something is for writers if you are not one, nor aspire to be one?

    Maybe reread that post and imagine Le Rejectionist responding. It is a highly entertaining excersice :D

    Thanks for your eloquence and team spirit. Like you, I'm a mom who is happier when she's pursuing her creativity.

    Good Luck Writing Buddy!

  5. It's trendy to be dismissive. Have you ever seen anything earnest in SALON? We WriMos make easy targets.

    I want to stand up for the worst writer with the most unrealistic expectations. I applaud that person's effort and believe the experience will do him/her (me?) good.

  6. So, you liked Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants?

    ;) Me, too!

    Seriously, as an editor and small publisher, I don't care what month you wrote your novel in. Or if you finished it in 30 days, or 120 days or even in 7 years. If the pressure of NanoWriMo forces you to sit down and hack out a rough draft of the novel you've been flirting with forever, but never got the nerve to ask out, then so be it. I don't think anyone who seriously writes, edits or publishes thinks that you're going to get a polished piece of work in 30 days, and Laura at Salon only reveals her ignorance of the writing process.

    Maybe it's like sausages, she loves to nom nom them, she just doesn't want to know how they're made because it isn't pretty.

  7. Even if I never write anything bigger than a blog post, thank you. And if I do write something bigger, it will certainly have been at least partially because of writers such as yourself, who have taken the time to be kind & encouraging.
    Certainly not because of anything someone like Laura Miller wrote.

  8. Yeah baby. Well said. Wonder if Laura Miller wants to write a novel, too? Hey, she should sign up for NaNo.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this, Carrie. Well said, well thought, and well meant.

  9. Wow, I couldn't even finish that article. How ridiculous. It's like she assumes that anyone participating in NaNoWriMo has no ability to critically assess his or her work before sending it out to be published.

    I'm with you. Salon can go %$^&* itself.

  10. Yeah! Give 'em hell, Carrie!
    Maybe I'll have to check out that article myself, if I can manage to take a break from writing long enough to read it.

    Tossing It Out

  11. Well said! Reading your article helped remind me why I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year!

    It is sad and frustrating how ignroant people like this Laura woman write articles like that bashing something they know nothing about. Or have no possible way of understanding certain things.

  12. You said it, sister.

    Though, cynically speaking, don't you think Salon knew fine well how much traffic an inciendary article like that would generate? I think they did.

    Ah, the world we live in....

  13. I agree, very well done. Thanks for taking the time.

  14. Love this piece - full of fire and well deserved. Made me laugh and cheer. And I too had a notion that Salon was perhaps being a bit sneaky with that article as a reverse marketing ploy. Not something they are above doing.

    As a writer, I really don't need someone who isn't a writer or a reader, for that matter, to tell me what is or is not good for my craft. There are plenty of valid counterpoints to participation in Nanowrimo and they have already been ably outlined on the web, by _writers_. Personally I really don't care to take a side, I do nano because I've been doing it since the 90s and I plan to keep doing it. Sometimes it's all about certain rituals...

    As an editor working with a small press, I agree with Fawn Neun, it's the quality of the manuscript I am sent that matters, not how it was produced. I really don't care if you spent the past 10 years writing your novel out in chalk on your basement floor and having some minion transcribe it for you. Although... a backstory like that just might help sell the book so maybe I would.

    Thanks again! Just followed you...

  15. This is my first time commenting on your blog, but after reading this post, I just had to say something.

    Amen! I couldn't have said it better myself.

    For me, NaNo has been about squashing that inner critic - the one that is really loud and never leaves me alone. She can go *&@% off right along with Salon.


  16. A little late to the party, but: If I could legitimately write on a query letter "I've just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel, and..." (I think it's ready for publication), I would totally do it.

    This might not be the most laudable of aims, but that article is a load of bumpkiss and I find it rather condescending. My #1 Rule For Writers: "Never be condescending (unless it's in the character of the narrator)."

  17. (Whistling from the balcony.)

    And I'm totally stealing a phrase from that:

    "What did you major in?"
    "Bad financial odds and high emotional reward."

    By the way, if anyone doesn't have a Mac but always wanted to use Scrivener, I just found out that they're coming out with a Windows version next year, and not only that, but...

    Anyone who participates in NaNoWriMo this year and achieves their 50,000 words (and has them validated) will get a 50% discount coupon which they will be able to use when Scrivener for Windows is released.

    Who said writing for NaNoWriMo doesn't pay? :-)