Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNo: Oh No? Oh YES!

"So you have creative aspirations, huh?  Well, DON'T."

At least, that's what Laura Miller of would like you to believe.

A friend linked this article on her Facebook page this morning.  Basically, Ms. Miller takes it upon herself to deride all participants in National Novel Writing Month as delusional time-wasters who believe that penning a first draft makes them J.K. Rowling.

You know what, Laura?

Kiss my NaNoWriMo'ing ass.

Below is the (very polite, for me) devil's advocate comment I posted on my friend's page:

Wow. That's a lot of vitriol. Just to play devil's advocate, I did do NaNo last year, and am doing it again. I'm stil rewriting my project from last year, and will keep doing so until I feel it's good enough to submit to agents (which, initially, I did earlier this year, but not without editing and rewriting first). Like I did last year, I outlined this year's project, did character sketches and plot summaries, and spent months thinking about my plot and characters (all of which are allowed within NaNo guidelines).

Before NaNo, I had written two novel-length manuscripts. I have a blog and write for a film website. I've also spent time at an arts colony, an opportunity that was very competitive to get. I read constantly, and I've never understood so called "writers" who say they don't read. Writers read, that's that.

However, I also have a full-time-plus job, and before I did NaNo, my last manuscript's first draft took eight months to complete. As it happens, November is also when things slow down a bit at my workplace, so it gives me more time and energy into getting out a first draft, which I will subsequently rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

The point of a first draft is to exist. It should never be submitted to someone for representation or publication as is. There will always be people who don't understand that. However, there are plenty of us who do, and who will keep working on our novels for months to come.

The author of this column has a right to her opinion, of course, and it's true that this writing approach is not for everyone. I just feel it generalized a bit, as not everyone has all the time in the world to write, and it CAN be productive to churn something out in a month and work from there.

Plus, if someone's going to plunk out a crappy novel instead of watching a million hours of TV, why not let them?

Now, here's where I let shit get real:

Really, Laura Miller?  Really?  You're going to take a ton of people the world over--serious writers with our eye on publishing, folks who want to give writing a shot, lit lovers all--and tell us NOT to take part in an activity we choose to do on our own, that no one's forcing YOUR uppity ass into?  Really?

Because it's soooo bad for someone to think outside the box.  God forbid they like to read and want to take a stab at making something of their own.  No way should anyone who feels a little bored or unfulfilled or depressed channel their negative energy into something positive.  Never should someone use their typing fingers for anything other than operating a remote control.

Three and a half years ago, I distinctly remember saying to my mother: "I'm a 27-year-old temp.  Who cares what I think about anything?"

Then I went with a friend to our alma mater's production of Cinderella.  It wasn't great.  But it made me remember an idea I'd had years ago.  About the backstage drama at a community theatre production of that very show. 

The next morning, I woke up and reached for my laptop.  I wrote a seven-page story, that eventually became a 120-page novel.  Several months later I showed it to Bob, aka The Friend Who Doesn't Tell You What You Want to Hear, But What You Need to Hear.

He said, "It's good.  You should keep writing."

A year and a half later, I took my first long-term fiction writing class.  Maybe two or three of us wanted to publish eventually.  The rest were there because (cover your ears, Laura), they liked reading and writing.  They thought it was FUN.  And you know what?  We all read and wrote and listened and gave feedback and laughed and made friends and generally had an awesome time.  And we learned stuff. 

I know, I know: such a waste of time!  Think of all the shitty TV I DIDN'T watch!

In between 2007 and now, I've written three manuscripts.  I started a blog.  I've been an artist in residence.  I've also made a ton of friends, real and virtual, that have made me laugh and made me learn.

I'm still trying to get published.  I don't have an agent yet.  My NaNo from last year is still a work in progress.  Will I ever get that elusive book deal?  I don't know.

Will I ever regret writing?


To get the bad taste of Ms. Miller's article out of your mouth, I offer you a quote from the filmmakers of Up, which won big at the Oscars earlier this year:

"You want to be creative?  Get out there and do it!  It's not a waste of time."

That's what I'm talking about.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have two angsty 70's music-loving teenagers in my head, who need my attention.

NaNo forever!


  1. This article seems akin to those run by Marie Claire lately with their only objective to drive traffic to their sites.

  2. To clarify, I meant the one you linked to, not your rebuttal.

  3. Agreed. The idea of NaNoWriMo to me seems to be two things:
    1) To be a producer and not a consumer. To write the next book instead of watching the last TV show.
    2) For writers to understand the concept of long-form works, and use the process to either weed themselves out or to rise to a better level.

    Elaboration/rant on #2: I've been pitched ideas with a "I have the greatest idea for a whatever, but I want you to write it, and we split the profit in half when it becomes huge, which it inevitably will". And then there are the people who go "I'm a writer, but haven't written anything, but have lots of ideas" (and I was/sometimes-still-am one). Two kinds of people who don't realize that it's not just about good ideas but also good execution, and that the ability to write a 100+ page thing is very different than writing a short story. Either you have it, or you don't.

    Or, you don't know if you have it. So you sit down and write a First Full Length Thing, and get to your editing afterwards. And you have the experience of what it's like to have written a Full Length Thing, which you take with you to your Next Project, which is invariably going to be a level better. Or you don't get to a next project, you submit your first draft to Agents, you get weeded out immediately, and you're done.

    I wrote a screenplay right out of college and never submitted it anywhere because after countless rewrites, it never got to a point I was happy with. I wouldn't have gone back and undone the countless hours I spent on it because even though I didn't even submit it, I used all of the experience to success on my first stage play. And had I in fact submitted it, the only people who would have had to read that crap would have been agents, who would have immediately discarded it.

    The point I'm making is, why is Laura Miller writing an article to sympathize with Agents? So Agents have to read crappy material. That's kind of their job.

  4. Yeah, Unpro! People who ding others for creative pursuits just don't get it. And, honestly, they're projecting their own feelings about themselves.

    Screw 'em and keep writing!

  5. Elizabeth: Yeah, I thought of the Maura Kelly piece too. It's comparable when it comes to elitist meanness.

    Gil: yes, yes and hell yes. Agents will ALWAYS have to read crap by delusional people. It might spike a bit after NaNo, but if it wasn't those people, it would be someone else.

    Most likely, my first two manuscripts will never see the light of day again. The first one would need major revamps, the second one is kind of all over the place and the heroine is really unlikable. However, a chapter from the second one is what got me my residency, and was a huge challenge to write (the character loses her virginity, and it's YA, so there's a lot of do's and don't's with writing that stuff). I'll always be really proud of it. And the first manuscript, well, that got me writing fiction in the first place. It's special that way, if not in any other way.

    Thanks for the comments, you guys!

  6. Ugh, seriously? That Salon writer is such a snooty bitch. NaNoWriMo isn't about writing an amazing novel that's going to become a bestseller. It's just about writing. So many people want to write a novel, and it's a good tool for getting that done, even if it never sees the light of day after that. Attacking people who are pursuing something creative is just ridiculous.

    Keep writing! I definitely want to read your novel once you're done!

  7. Wow, Ms. Miller completely missed the point. I am amazed by anyone who completes a novel. (God knows I haven't.) Any true writer will revise, revise, revise. (Something I do even for my legal responses.) Every organization, profession, club, etc. has people who think that they are always the best. For example, people who think they don't need to revise after a first draft before submitting a novel. Good luck to you, and I hope to read this month's novel some day!

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  10. Meg, Desiree and EB: thanks for your comments! Hopefully you WILL get to read my (much more polished) novel someday. :)

    Nikki: link away! It's funny how I was intending to take a break from the blog to focus on NaNo, yet it's NaNo that got me back to the blog. And I'm really proud of you for taking some Nikki time and plugging away again this year. I'm not a parent, so take this next part for what it's worth, but I think focusing on your own interests makes one a BETTER mom/dad because you are a more well-rounded individual. So go you!

  11. Hi again everyone! Here is a comment by Nikki of, which I deleted because I am a moron:

    Well said Unpro, and if you don't mind, I'm going to link your rebuttal on my own Facebook.

    This is my second year as a nano participant. The first year was a failure, but I'm plugging away at it. You know what? I don't have delusions of being JK Rowling. Fuck, I don't even think I'm as good as Stephenie Meyer, and I think she sucks.

    But. I like to write, talent or no. And I have a child, am expecting another one in a few months, a husband who works 60+ hour weeks, my own part time job and a house to keep. You know what? This is my fucking time to sit down and do something I think is fun, which is write. I'm not writing for publication, I'm writing for myself just because I want to. In truth, my job is easy, parenting a four year old seems to consist of playing endless rounds of Cootie and learning more than I ever wanted to know about dinosaurs, and it's not like I find dishes and laundry all that stimulating. So yeah, maybe I need a little challenge every now and again.

    So screw Laura Miller and the horse she rode in on. (Oh man, I ended a sentence in a preposition. How non-writerly of me!)

  12. I'm with you in terms of your reaction to this article. Yes, she's right in that readers are important, but so are writers. I don't think that one group is necessarily more important than the other. I do like that 10/10/10 idea, where people read new books in different genres.
    I also agree that writers will keep writing no matter what, because they're incapable of not writing. She described people who send in their Nanowrimo manuscript in December, but I think many of those people won't necessarily keep writing in the same way that writers who value writing (and revision) do. I think that for those writers who send in their mansucripts too soon, it's more about getting published than anything else.
    And good for you for all that you've accomplished in your writing. I'm proud of you.

  13. There is a nit I must pick:

    You weren't being a devil's advocate to your friend; you were offering a dissenting opinion. A devil's advocate is arguing something they don't believe, hence, devil.

    But I agree with everything else you wrote! No one is going to force Laura Miller to write a book in a month, so why does she care?

  14. NW: thanks for the support. I also agree that readers are really important, and that writers MUST read. I've never understood people who call themselves writers, but say they don't like to read. It doesn't make sense to me.

    Gnatalby: thank you for the clarification. I got so riled up, I used the wrong terminology!

    I was talking with a friend today who is a published author and a writing teacher. She's not a big NaNo supporter, and told me that each of her novels took 3.5 years to write. And I think that's totally fine! Again, I'm still working on my project from last year, and may be doing so for some time before I'm comfortable submitting it. The NaNo writing method is definitely NOT for everybody. However, for me it works well, because while I love my current WIP, in the meantime I had this other idea, and I do want to crap out a first draft even if I end up never looking at it again.

    Plus, it's forcing me to sit down and write every day, after falling out of the habit for a couple of months.

    I don't have a problem with Ms. Miller saying it's not a method for everyone. I have a problem with her overwhelming negativity and what I perceive to be elitism. Like you said, gnatalby, no one's forcing HER to write this way. But if it works for some serious authors (like Sara Gruen, whose book Water for Elephants started as a NaNo project), and if it gives some not-so-serious writers the pleasure of creating, why all the hate, y'know?

  15. Your friend not supporting NaNo because it takes her 3.5 years to write a novel is basing it on those people who write their novel in a month and immediately think it's complete and done. And actually, she's pretty much right. I wonder what percentage of NaNo writers do just that.

  16. I'm not sure how I stumbled here as I'm a romance writer...anyway, I'm not doing Nano. Most of my friends are. I'm not doing it because I'm simply not wired that way. It doesn't take me years to write something, but I know myself, and I'm better off when I'm really motivated, when an idea sweeps me off my feet. That said, what the hell does it hurt? Going to miss an episode of Hellcats? Going to use your brain, find like-minded friends, explore your own issues, see the world in a different light because you've turned yours on? Yeah, what the hell? Some of us are deadline driven and some aren't. If you are, this is a fantastic way to spend a month. It's your life. Who cares if you decide to take up hip hop at 53? Oh wait, I just did that...

  17. ciarcullen, welcome! I love romance novels, and recently discovered them this year (in fact, I did a post on it back in March).

    Please read and comment anytime.

    And you are AWESOME for taking up hip hop at 53! Age ain't nothin' but a number. ;)