Defender of the Crown: Three Points in Favor of NaNoWriMo

It seems a little silly to have to defend an idea as successful as NaNoWriMo, but I’ve noticed a bit of push-back against it this year, a backlash from published authors that I feel is a little unwarranted. I’m sure some of the grumpiness can be attributed to being tired of hearing about it; honestly, I’m a little tired of hearing about it – I’ve been seeing tweets on the subject since September. In some corners, it also seems to be treated as the greatest idea for writing ever, and I’m not sure I agree with that. But I think there are enough positives about the idea/event that I felt compelled to write some sort of defense of the thing, so here are the reasons that I think NaNoWriMo is such a good idea and so useful.

  • It’s an annual celebration of creativity. We live in a pretty destructive world. I don’t think that’s a very controversial statement: everywhere around us, things are collapsing, decaying, and dying. That’s not a negative view of life, it is just an observation of the nature of entropy itself. If something is not properly maintained, sooner or later it will decay and collapse. Chaos is supposed to increase around us. Thankfully, humanity has a chance to push back against that chaos in our own way, regardless if the effort is wasted over the long term. Creativity is the name of that chance, and it’s an affirmation and celebration of life, a way of saying “we’re here and we matter.” I’ve written a little bit about this before, in my discussion of what drives me to keep going. NaNoWriMo encourages those people who may not be creative in everyday life to stop, at least once a year, and consider what they can do to build something new, from the whole cloth of their imagination. It’s my own belief that being in touch with your creativity fosters a more respectful and observant outlook on life. In this way, NaNoWriMo helps to unite people in awareness.

  • It teaches discipline. I’ve actually been somewhat amused this year, seeing people struggling to write 2,000 words a day. That is my daily struggle as a writer, week in, week out, month in, month out. That’s my dedication to improving my own craft. NaNoWriMo teaches you that that’s what you need to succeed. Now, I’m sure some people save up their ideas for November and only write like that for a month a year. More power to them, I say. If that’s how they want to write, who am I to judge? BUT. I firmly believe that long-term discipline is what really gets you going, and some people learn that discipline from participating in NaNoWriMo and continue that throughout the year. I affirm that even the most novice of writers, writing 2000 words a day and actively trying to improve his or her work, will become a good writer. Sure, talent matters, but the two real keys to getting somewhere with this thing are dedication and discipline. NaNoWriMo shows you that. You don’t have to wait for some muse to drop on you, or some fickle mood to strike you. Just sit down and do it.

  • NaNoWriMo increases the number of books available to read. If you don’t love reading, then why are you writing? Seriously. I suppose there’s a cynical, competitive side that believes that the fewer the writers, the better for their career. I think that’s a fallacy. Writing isn’t a zero-sum game. Someone who exclusively reads romance novels is just not going to read my work, no matter if I became the finest in my genre, so one less romance writer has no effect on me whatsoever. Of course, by that same token, one more doesn’t, either, but the reader of romance novels now has extra choices, and something great may come from those extra choices. I’m saying that while quality is important, quantity also has a place, because it inevitably broadens the spectrum of quality releases. If 25 books in a given genre are written during NaNoWriMo, and 2 of those are high-quality, that’s 2 more than we would have had without the competition. I just don’t see a problem there as a reader. Not to mention that if those new writers with quality works learn the necessary discipline to keep going, more novels can come out of it, rendering the whole thing a net gain for quality works.

So there we go. Three reasons why I think NaNoWriMo is a good thing. Sure, it’s not the best thing ever, but if I can find at least three net positives to the thing, it’s hard for me to get too worked up, even if I’ve learned that it’s not right for my own practice. Who knows, though, maybe next year I’ll set an idea aside and pursue it in November. I’ve done it before, though the results were only so-so.

Anyway, hats off to those who are participating this year. Good luck, and I hope to read your novel one day.

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  1. I agree with all you say and find your ideas on creativity interesting. No, NaNo isn’t the best thing ever, but at least it gets people writing, including me. I’m very bad when it comes to self-discipline normally.

  2. I had to quit last year after 12k words, but NaNo has been good to me over the year. This year, once the novels that I sold to a publisher came out of NaNo. I’m crazy to do it this year, but I have some good material too far. As long as good comes out of it, I have no reason to knock it.

  3. One of the main criticisms I’ve been hearing about NaNoWriMo is that with a first draft and such a quick rush to finish something at fifty thousand words, it will inevitably be crap. And why should someone write or read crap?

    But I think the critics are missing the point. As I do NaNoWriMo myself (first timer), I understand that it’s inevitably not about the quality (although you might find a diamond in the rough with your NaNoWriMo work). And most people who can finish NaNoWriMo are probably already writers (I doubt I could’ve done NaNoWriMo when I first started writing). But it teaches you to have discipline. Especially when you’re someone like myself who’s already balancing a second draft of a second novel and getting ready to publish a first novel all in the same month.

    It’s kind of like how people don’t need to do a marathon to learn how to jog. It’s there to give them some epiphanies. And that’s what I’ve been getting with NaNoWriMo. I’ve learned I have much more discipline than I thought before; and some of those projects I thought would be on the side shelf forever are now a possibility.

    • Very good point. It’s almost akin to training for a big marathon, in fact – the marathon being an ongoing writing career. And I agree, those criticisms of the quick first draft are missing the point; editing can almost always shore up any issues.

  4. It’s my first year and I had never even knew it existed until September! But I am enjoying it. It is challenging me and hopefully something good will come out of it, even if it’s just experiencing a new experience!

  5. Pingback: #NaNoWriMo day 8 and we’re still hunting a fucking snake « Lemon City III

  6. Yeah, I agree–anything that helps get those thoughts down on paper–but I haven’t really noticed the push-back you’re talking about…

  7. I’d like to try it for the same reasons people climb Mt Everest. But not this year. #amediting

    • I’m afraid the editing process will end up screwing me up as well, which is part of why I didn’t do it this year. I’m just going to have too much editing and publicity work to do in the last two weeks of this month to really give it my full attention.

  8. I work a full-time job with gazillion of hours overtime, so sitting down to write everyday is often difficult (I wish I could!) and I end up concentrating more on short stories.
    It’s much easier to set apart that time in November when I get to tell people “oh, I’m participating in this thing called NaNoWriMo” as an excuse of why I can’t get involved in a gazillion other things. So I’m glad for it. Have a few drafts out from NaNo, and some of which I think can be edited into something useful.
    So to each his/her own!

  9. I agree with many of the comments here (and your three points). I haven’t seen the push back either, but I think I can understand it. And partially, this is based on what you’ve written. I wrote my first novel in 30 days (not during November, but rather because I told an agent I would). Looking back after many, many (one more time? many) revisions, I realize how bad that first draft was.

    Now this wasn’t a problem back in the day when self-publishing wasn’t so prevalent because it just wouldn’t have gone out as it was (unless I wanted to do the old school self-publishing of getting copies printed), but these days it’s a different story. You mention the possible 2 good ideas out of 25, and I can agree with you on that point. The only problem is that those 23 other stories are still getting put into the market to make it even harder to find the two good ones (and in many cases to largely discredit the indie/self-publishing market).

    I dunno. I can see both sides. I would be doing NaNoWriMo this year if I could, but I certainly wouldn’t fool myself into believing I had anything more than a rough draft.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • That’s pretty impressive for not having seen the pushback. That’s essentially what I’ve heard – the combination of quality issues from rushing through a draft (and I admit, this concerns me as well, and I consider myself a fast drafter, typically finishing the first draft in two months) and the glut of bad indie stuff. Of course, I have a feeling we’d still see the bad indie stuff either way, but it does elevate the issue of getting yourself noticed, I suppose. It is a thorny issue in the days of self-publishing, but on net I still feel like it’s a good thing.

  10. Yes, I love Nanowrimo because of the surge of creative energy that I get by participating and meeting with other writers, even if what I crank out may not be the greatest or most polished first draft ever. 🙂 Go creative abandon!

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