Ignore NaNoWriMo Scoffers & Keep Writing

A little over five years ago, John Scalzi observed that “the seven most damaging words in the English language for the reputation of any novelist might very well be ‘I just wrote an article for Salon.’” The same might be said of its regular “literary” columnists, whose own contributions to the site’s status as, in Scalzi’s words, “that miasmic hole of self-regard” is not insignificant. Two nights ago, for example, Laura Miller belittled National Novel Writing Month along with just about every aspiring writer who participates in it:

“Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read… The last thing the world needs is more bad books. But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.”

Miller goes on to describe NaNoWriMo as a particularly nasty symptom of what she calls “the narcissistic commerce of writing,” which is basically her way of saying she heard secondhand about some people who said they wanted to write books but didn’t actually read much. She then remarks that “there are already more than enough novels out there—more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it’s our job to do so.” Now, she’ll grant you that there’s some value to continuing to write books, even if we already have plenty to read, because her favorite authors might come up with something new; heck, she’s even willing to concede that somebody she’s never heard of before might be able to write a book she would like. It’s just that NaNoWriMo probably isn’t going to produce anything like that, so what’s the point, really?

(There’s also a bunch of wailing and gnashing of teeth on Miller’s part about how serious readers have become an endangered species, which is nonsense, nonsense plain and simple, and unhelpful nonsense at that.)

When Jacket Copy lead blogger Carolyn Kellogg saw that article—which she describes as “at best wrongheaded, and at worst, smallhearted”—she was moved to write a defense of NaNoWriMo in which she takes Miller’s argument apart piece by piece. “There is no logical basis to portraying the NaNoWriMo hopefuls as nonreaders,” she points out, and can even cite lively discussion forums that demonstrate the intensity of their engagement with other people’s books. (Miller, meanwhile, had previously admitted on Twitter she couldn’t be bothered to finish reading this year’s Man Booker winner, The Finkler Question, because she got bored.)

“Why not celebrate those jumping in to NaNoWriMo for their efforts?” Kellogg asks. “They are, quite simply, people who like books enough to try to write one.” And that’s an awesome thing: Despite Miller’s condescending belief that we already have plenty of great books without other people trying to get in on the act—a bit of elitist snobbery that always manages to boggle me, in whatever form I encounter it—there is always room for more impassioned storytelling, and if you’re spending this month trying to engage in it, more power to you. As many of you will find out, it becomes not a complete journey unto itself, but the first stage in an even more exciting process.

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4 November 2010 | theory |