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National Novel Writing Month: Love it or Hate it?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having a little trouble identifying with the concept of National Novel Writing Month. I’m having even more trouble getting on board with its acronym, NaNoWriMo. Sounds like a poorly named droid or something . . . perhaps the space-junkyard lovechild of R2D2 and C3PO?

I think my main problem with the concept of NaNoWriMo (I’m sure the people behind the organization are awesome) is that it cheapens the art of novel writing. By this I mean if a person hasn’t already succumbed to the all-consuming drive to write and complete a novel, why start now? Why on earth would something as silly sounding as NaNoWriMo motivate you to finally get serious about writing?

I’m not trying to be ugly or cynical here. I’m glad people are writing. I’m just  really struggling with the NaNoWriMo idea (and acronym. Oy!).

[For me, it’s akin to the Character First Conundrum — click here to check out Character First’s list of 49 character qualities, which you can learn and, halleluiah, use to finally become a decent human being! No more struggling through life developing such traits as you experience and grow from intangibles like hope and despair and disappointment and triumph.]

Another thing that bugs me about NaNoWriMo is the whole Mo part. Talk about cheap. (I might be able to get behind something like National Novel Writing Span.) I think the last thing a less and less literate United States needs is more rushed writing.

And on that note I present my last problem with NaNoWriMo: wouldn’t a better use of such a huge group of participants and energy be, say, volunteering at one’s local school or literacy council? I mean, obviously the NaNoWriMo participants know how to read and write. Right?

On the other hand, the years I’ve spent writing in private are just as self-serving as the days the NaNoWriMos are piling up in public; though I’ve often considered doing so, I haven’t volunteered at my local literacy council, either. But maybe now I will! That would certainly be a healthier response than this semi-cynical quasi-rant, henceforth known simply as  SemCynQuaRa.

Plus rants are soooo out.

But internet polls are IN! Let me know where you come out on this:


7 responses

  1. Sawyer

    -barges in-

    NaNoWriMo, I think, pushes a lot of people (like me) to not only get an idea on paper, but to force themselves through all the crappy parts (of which there are many, especially if you’re a first timer). I’m a sucker for a challenge and this at least gets the skeleton of a plot out. It’s not meant to be finished when the challenge is over. Writing as much as you can in a short amount of time sometimes breeds greatness, so long as what you wrote in that short amount of time isn’t what you publish. Occasionally people use it as a way to overcome the mental block that almost inevitably occurs when you try to write a longer piece. Practice makes perfect, yes? People don’t just vomit up 50K+ word novels.

    I’m not really sure what you mean by ‘cheapens the art of novel writing’ because I know of a lot of published, acclaimed authors who’ve done similar things long before the concept of NaNoWriMo and certainly before the internet was invented. There’s a good number of ‘good’ authors out there now who create these challenges for themselves just to get themselves writing. It’s a method I learned in a creative writing class in freshman year of high school (though, then it was 20K in one week) and I was extremely amused when I found it online. I was even more amused when I learned my award winning teacher frequently uses it to write the first draft of her novels.

    For me, though… well, I mostly write in one genre, which I find limiting, but NaNoWriMo I’ve found is the perfect opportunity to branch out, especially since I’ve got a bunch of friends doing it. I think that factors in to people deciding to do it, too – people are people-oriented and tend to be motivated by other people, especially if said people are doing something similar to what they’re doing.

    That’s in answer to your first question. As for the rest… people do self-serving things all the time, no? The art of writing for yourself is self-serving period and that’s the point of NaNoWriMo. A lot of those people spend their time volunteering at local schools, or libraries, or animal shelters (where I practically live)… some of them more so than others. Some writers of NaNoWriMo set up subgroups not unlike Swim-a-Thons. Realistically speaking, considering people swarm to it for their own satisfaction, do you really think it would be as popular if it was volunteering at local schools? Probably not. Its existence generally just means a college student spends more time writing and less time watching TV. People squeeze it in to pockets of time that they already were doing nothing in; aside from professional writers, I can’t think of anyone who quit doing something or canceled something because NaNoWriMo got in the way. Volunteering places takes set amounts of free time and lots of forms. NaNoWriMo can be completed during a class in which you’re doing nothing or during those blessed when your screaming children are finally asleep. I write it when I’m normally writing. Nothing changes, I’m just sticking to a particular plot I need to have 50K words in by November 30.

    As for the acronym… yeah, it’s really stupid. I have no defense for it, heh.

    November 3, 2008 at 9:49 pm

  2. davidfarney

    Great response, Sawyer. By cheapens I mean trivialize. Again, I think it’s great that people are writing because, as you said, practice makes perfect. I’m just having trouble buying into it, you know? I realize NaNoWriMo is in its 10th year, but it still feels sorta trendy somehow.

    But hey — what doesn’t work for me is obviously working for lots of other people. If you haven’t voted in the poll, please do! I want to see how people shake out on this topic.

    November 3, 2008 at 10:33 pm

  3. Sawyer

    Well, it IS trendy. It’s trendy like urban fantasy and zombies are trendy. It’s trendy like WRITING is trendy. I don’t think NaNo itself trivialized the “art of novel writing” – that’s like saying Hoovervilles caused the Great Depression or the Populist party caused farmer unrest. It’s a product, not the cause. -shrug-

    November 4, 2008 at 8:43 am

  4. Philip Martin

    Hey, Dave! Inspired by your question, I ended up writing a post (NaNoWriMo, a Literary Feast of Fools?) on my Writer’s Handbook blog (http://writershandbook.wordpress.com/) about the value (or not?) of NaNoWriMo. In short, as an editor of books of advice for writers, I only think of a small number of successful writers that did anything like NaNoWriMo. Georges Simenon came to mind! But is that the path you’d want to follow as a writer? My own November challenge to writers: ask yourself, honestly, what really works for you? What is really going to advance your writing?

    November 5, 2008 at 11:40 am

  5. davidfarney

    I checked out your post, Phil. Good stuff! I’m trying to relax about this NaNoWriMo thing. Trying.

    Who knows? Maybe I could even benefit from it — I’m a pretty slow writer and actually WANT to learn how to write faster. Hmm . . .

    November 5, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  6. Adrian Simmons

    I lean more toward the “cheapens” it thing. yeah yeah, people say they need the motivation and that they make better progress when they turn off the internal editor and all that. BUT the internal editor is there for a reason. The writing-review-re-write cycle is what makes great ideas into great books, and it seems that a lot of NaNoWriMo people don’t do the second two steps (in fact, most of them don’t even complete the first one).

    On the other hand, I suppose it is good practice, a good excercise. And, of course, it seems that the people who get a lot of benefit from it are (wait for it) already establishd writers.

    November 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm

  7. Pingback: National Novel Writing Month: NaNoWriMo1/2O « STORM OF THE NORTH

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