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.