NaNoWriMo: November 5 – DON’T write that novel

I’m going to be in the office overnight tonight, makin’ that little bit more cash and taking a couple of breaks for writing, so I’m doing today’s update early (without having actually written anything).

Via JJ’s blog I read an article by Laura Miller, on Salon, entitled ‘Better yet, DON’T write that novel‘. Here is an excerpt:

Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read. (That said, it has generated one hit, and a big one: “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, who apparently took the part about revision to heart.) 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.

Here’s why: NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.

I agree with Miller in spirit, but come on, to suggest that all people who participate in NaNoWriMo are narcissistic and talentless is pretty short-sighted. I mean, it’s not like we all blog daily about our NOVEL about the quandraries we face as WRITERS writing a NOVEL… oh.

Seriously, though, Miller’s article strikes me as a reactionary piece born out of a casual utterance overheard by her editor, or something. “Hey, Laura, I heard you can’t stand NaNoWriMo. Why don’t you see if you can come up with750 words on that? It could get some decent pageviews.” The result is a scattershot sniper attack on whatever comes into her head, complete with broad generalisations, missed opportunities, and – of course – some genuine insight. The part about the couple who publish how-to manuals for wannabe writers, and the massive cash they make from them (as opposed to the literary magazine they edit), was particularly dispiriting.

Her main point seems to be that people should be reading, not writing. That’s fine. I completely agree. There are more elegant ways of saying so, though. I know she didn’t set out to discourage every single one of NaNoWriMo’s more than 100,000 participants from creative endeavour – but that is how she comes across. In my case, of course I hope for whatever I churn out to be worthy enough of careful revision and eventual public acceptance, but that isn’t the goal. Ultimately, rather than writing a novel myself, I would be happier to get a week free of all obligations with which to get a bunch of books out from the library, park myself in a comfortable chair, and… read.

When I have that kind of time, that’s what I’ll do. For now, I have to be content with half an hour of writing, an hour and a half of blogreading, and about an hour of novel reading per day. Back to work…

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