November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Day 6 - Naysayers

My friend Dave (who recently published a story in the Brooklyn Rail about Tacos) was kind enough to forward me Laura Miller's rant against NaNoWriMo on The main point of Miller's article is that people should not be encouraged to write - there are already far more novels out there than anyone can read - but rather encouraged to read, since many of those already published and worthy novels go widely unread. To her the whole enterprise seems to be a pointless effort, serving nothing but the "commerce" of writing since "far more money can be made out of people who want to write novels than out of people who want to read them."

While this is true, and I agree with her assessment that unfortunately far too many of the people who wish to write novels hardly ever read novels, I think she's going after the wrong target here. NaNoWriMo does not cost the writers anything and does not encourage its participants to buy writing guides or join expensive workshops. The availability of NaNoWriMo to anyone who wishes to take part is both its defining characteristic and, in the eyes of its critics, its biggest problem. In my eyes, however, NaNoWriMo is nothing more than a tool, a simple device to kickstart my novel, and like any tool it can be used for any purpose by whoever is holding it. You can use a hammer to build a table or to bash someone's head in, but whatever you choose to do with it, it's kind of stupid to hold the hammer accountable.

I also agree with Miller's assertion that good novels would get written anyway, with or without NaNoWriMo, but if this tool is a more effective means of reaching this goal for some, what's the harm of using it?
Ralph Ellison at his desk
What I particularly disliked about Miller's piece is the either/or approach - as if you can't read novels and write them, with the implication that most people shouldn't be writing at all. By a rough estimate, I think I read about 120 books while writing one novel (and at least some of those books I only read because I was writing the novel), and I can't think of a single worthy writer who does not believe that the foundation of writing is reading.

Overall, the piece smacks of a sort of elitism, of a "leave writing to the experts" approach, which for me also had a certain consumerist undertone - that we should applaud the purchasers of books, and all aspire to purchase more, rather than attempt to produce anything of our own, even if only for our own enjoyment or fulfillment.

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