Chill out, NaNoWriMo Haters


I’m a bit of an author junkie.

I follow a lot of writers on Twitter and listen to multiple writing, book and author interview podcasts.

Unlike many other types of celebrities, I find authors engaging, entertaining and smart whether they are speaking or tweeting.

This time of year, however, the pervasive disdain and sometime downright hostility toward NaNoWriMo makes me want to unsubscribe to the lot.

NaNoWriMo — or National Novel Writing Month — is an “annual novel writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world.”

It prompts writers of all kinds to write a novel in 30 days (Or 50,000 words of a novel anyway) through a website, meet ups, chat rooms and other forms of encouragement.

I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo and I fully realize that it’s close to impossible to write a good, publishable novel in 30 days. Many of the “novels” produced through NaNoWriMo are probably God awful.

But why do “real” writers feel so threatened by the movement?

As the director of a performing arts center, I witness many art forms that encourage amateur participation. We have community bands, community theater, drama clubs, open mics and dance recitals.

The local visual arts center has sculpture classes, open studios and “sip and paint” events.

We both go out of our way to invite people in.

Are all amateur artists good? Will they ever star on Broadway or be featured at MoMA? Of course not. The point is that you can participate in art at many levels.

So why do published authors scorn NaNoWriMo’s attempt to get people writing?
Perhaps they are sick of comments about how easy they have it. “I wish I could just sit at home all day and collect a big paycheck.”

Or that writing isn’t a difficult profession. “I could write a novel too. It can’t be that hard!”

I can’t imagine saying these things, or even thinking them, but I’m sure people do. People think and say just about anything.

But NaNoWriMo isn’t saying writing a novel is simple. Their mission is all about “creative potential,” and “self-expression” and “community.” There’s nothing in there about publishing or even having a readable manuscript. The project is about inspiration.

And deadlines.

Perhaps successful authors forget what it was like when they started writing. The self-doubt and isolation.

Victor LaValle once tweeted something like “write your novel now before someone else does” so maybe the NaNoWriMo-hating authors think there aren’t enough words and novels to go around. (I’m not saying LaValle is one of these authors. I’m just using his theory as a possible excuse for them.)

Luckily not all authors are so disapproving.

At a recently literary festival I met Julia Fierro and Miranda Beverly Whittemore. One of them asked if I was a writer too.

I blushed and said that I was “attempting” to write a “novel sort of thing.”

Mr. Fierro smiled and said, “You’re a writer!” And Ms. Whittemore wrote “good luck with your writing” when she signed my copy of Bittersweet.

And Matthew Dicks just graciously read two random chapters of my work-in-progress and offered me some great suggestions and encouragement.

Their well wishes meant a lot to me.

I entertain no delusions of grandeur. I don’t expect my attempts at a novel will ever be published or are even very good.

But I’m having fun giving novel-writing a whirl.

And if 300,000 plus NaNoWriMo participants are doing the same thing, why resent them? Successful authors have to stop being possessive and enjoy the fact that so many people admire what they do enough to try it for themselves.

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