The Dissenter’s Notebook: On NaNoWriMo


It's not you, it's me.

I admit, I don’t feel good about it.  Honestly, I feel like a bit of a turncoat. But I can’t get on the self-congratulatory NaNoWriMo train this year.

By this point, slamming on National Novel Writing Month is almost as popular as the event itself, pointing out the questionable nobility of just puking up 50,000 words for the sake of doing it.  And lest you think I’m being all, ‘this is dumb, so I’m not doing it,’ sort of moments, I assure you, I didn’t always think it was dumb.

Discovering NaNo in 2003 was a revelation for me.  I finished my 50,000 words of [very] thinly -veiled autobiography about a girl, I bemoaned the lack of a supportive community in the city I was living in, I even wrote a feature article about it for my magazine writing class [NaNo founder Chris Baty even answered some lame questions I sent him via email. I got an A].

When I got to Toronto a couple of years later, I thought NaNoWriMo would be a great opportunity not only to light a fire on an idea that was spinning in my brain, but to meet some people in my new city.  I decided to sit in on one of the writing sessions going down at the Toronto Reference Library.  Touched with the social anxieties as I am, I figured it was the most suitable option, being in a wide open public place where I could set up early and watch the people coming in.

I don’t have to justify my insanity to you.

Sitting at that table on the first floor, watching people trickle in, I knew I was never going to introduce myself.  I’ll try to be diplomatic:  I knew I had nothing in common with these people.  So I took my leave, figured it would probably better on the forums.  

Not so much.  I skimmed the ‘What’s Your Genre?’ thread and was honestly surprised to see the same thing over and over:

  • Fantasy
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Fantasy Romance
  • Urban Romance
  • Fantasy Horror
  • Urban Romantic Fantasy Horror
  • Vampires

No one, not a single person that I found at that time, was playing in a sandbox remotely similar to the one that I was.  Not that mine was so original, I was clacking out the same sort of magical realism Murakami-cum-Lethem tale currently being cranked out by at least four dozen Brooklyn waiters as I write this.  But it was amazing to me how strong the appeal for something like NaNoWriMo is for people who, real talk, could very well be writing fanfiction the other eleven months of the year.

It’s impossible to say this without sounding like an asshole, which is one of the unfortunate side effects of being an actual asshole, and maybe this makes no sense outside of my head, but it was like the gloss of NaNo’s shiny appeal dulled and flaked off, leaving the uncomfortable coating underneath.

NaNo prides itself on quantity over quality, of one blast of focused discipline.  And that’s fine for what it is, but people, you need to be honest about what it is: a stunt.

What gets my ass the most is probably the people who embrace the terminology so readily. “I’m a novelist!”  “I wrote a novel!” No, you didn’t. You wrote a draft, that you very well might never look at again, living in some delusional belief that first idea is the best idea [I speak as a former sufferer of said delusion].  You know how I feel about self-labelers friends.  NaNo is the literary equivalent of playing on your beach volleyball league: it’s a good time, and it gets you out of the house, but you’re not a professional volleyball player. You’re a dabbler.

I admire the intent. Always have, always will, especially what it does in developing young writers.  But compared to something like 826National, NaNo comes across like the worst type of narcissism.

Writing is fun, yes. It is also work.  All those words, all those ‘novels,’ and what is there to show from it?  Yes, you can trot out ‘Water for Elephants’ and now ‘The Night Circus,’ but those are so grossly the exception, and not the rule.  Clearly I have no issue with useless art, I’ve been blogging for ten years.  And I can’t even call myself a ‘blogger,’ let alone a ‘writer’ or ‘novelist.’

Maybe I hold the act of writing too sacrosanct, but God dammit, it is sacred.  Write whatever you want, whatever genre you want, but you better take it as seriously as I do.

NaNo’s motto says two things are needed: a plan, an not enough time.  We know the participants have the second.  It’s an insult that so few bother with the first.


One comment

  1. Well Sir,
    Once and a while I make comments on your blog. For better or worse, sometimes they don’t make any sense. Other times my grammar make what I have to say difficult to under stand. But since your current post has to do with Nano, where quantity runs supreme, I decided to write you a short note. No more then 216 words.

    I have sat back and had the privilege to watch you write wonderful short stories, blogs, news articles and tweets. All the while waxing the idea that one day you will write your great magnum opus. If memory serves you yourself have written nano several times. I know you have a plan, I know you have the characters. Hell, I think you may have even written an outline on the old MBP.

    So my dear friend, as NaNo approaches, I throw down the gauntlet and challenge you. Not to enter that “contest” to see whether or not you can write 50,000 words, we know you can do that. My challenge, is one that I believe everyone will support you with. And would be most inclined to help you achieve your goal.

    Not going to say more then that but if your feeling up to it…

    I dare you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s