This post, by Carolyn Kellogg, originally appeared on the Los Angeles Times’ Jacket Copy blog on 11/3/10.
If you want to write a novel in 30 days, don’t let anyone stop you. Not even Salon’s Laura Miller.
Miller, who I usually find thoughtful and sweet, has written an anti-NaNoWriMo column — "Better yet, DON’T write that novel" — that is at best wrongheaded, and at worst, smallhearted. Miller would lay the blame for too many writers — and not enough readers — at the foot of NaNoWriMo, the project that challenges would-be authors to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November.
The too-many-writers trope is echoed by people who publish literary journals, who see more submissions than subscriptions, and those in the publishing industry who’d simply like to sell more books. Even if it is true — which I’m not convinced it is — there are certainly other factors, including the hundreds of MFA programs in creative writing, that swell the ranks of hopeful writers.
And is a large pool of hopeful writers really a terrible thing? Are there not thousands more marathon runners than medalists, more home chefs than pros who might ever run a restaurant kitchen? What’s wrong with an enthusiastic amateur class of writers? Who says they’re not readers, anyway? I’ve yet to see anything more substantial than a dinner party anecdote.
Here’s a quick rundown of Miller’s argument, and where it goes wrong.
1. Miller writes: " ‘Make no mistake,’ the organization’s website counsels. ‘You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.’ I am not the first person to point out that ‘writing a lot of crap’ doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November."
In fact, spending a month "writing a lot of crap" is more fruitful than many things, including much of the fun, casual cultural consumption we regularly engage in. It’s more fruitful than watching TV, playing video games, spending hours on Facebook or Twitter. It might not be more fruitful than innoculating children in an underdeveloped village, but we’re not talking about people quitting the Peace Corps in order to do NaNoWriMo. The only thing "writing a lot of crap" can genuinely be said to be less fruitful than is writing well.
Miller quotes it, but misses the essential point: for a hopeful writer to "just create." It’s the act of doing that’s important. Knitters don’t knit because their friends need more hats. But so far, there hasn’t been a "Better yet, DON’T knit that scarf" manifesto.