Friday, November 5, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Some people just don't get it.

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, or if you've known me for awhile, you probably know I write. I don't just mean blogs or status updates. I mean I write fiction, poetry, journals, articles - you know, really write. I've even been paid for most of my career to create tomes where once there were blank pages.

But most of my writing until 2007 was short, either because it was designed to be - short stories, poetry, articles, journals, memos - or because I just couldn't get past that 4,000 word mark. I actually got to the point where I thought that perhaps I would not be able to finish any of the novels I had started, which numbered about 5 at that point.

Then I learned about NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. I actually started hearing about this "contest" in 2005 or so, but put it off. I had just gotten married, my uncle died so we had to travel unexpectedly, we were trying to get pregnant and did pretty quickly so then there was morning sickness to contend with. That blew 2005. 2006 was not much better - new baby, recovering from 6 months modified bed rest and a massive fibromyalgia flare from which I am still recovering.

But in 2007, I had no more excuses. So, I began. I sat down and started writing. And I failed miserably. I think I may have hit 10,000 words - or maybe it was 27,000. Whatever it was, I didn't "win." So you know what I did? I picked up that story, dusted it off and completely changed it for 2008 finishing with 52,000 words written by November 30. Then I edited the book for the next several months, sent it out to be read by others, got feedback, edited it again and sent it out again for more feedback. I also had the benefit of Margaret Atwood reviewing my synopsis and forwarding it to her friend and editor Nan Talese who then promptly rejected me because she is not taking very many new fiction authors currently and my project is not right for her imprint.

Never did she tell me that my writing was not worthwhile. In fact she suggested I find an agent. (Anyone know any who are looking for new talent - please email me!) Yes, one of the most influential women in publishing took the time to encourage me to continue to search for a home for my book. She did not tell me there were so many books out there that there do not need to be more or that because I wrote it in the month of November my book was any less worthy. Instead, she was frank about the state of general fiction sales and encouraging despite that particular challenge.

Laura Miller, a Senior Editor for and a "frequent" book reviewer for The New York Times, believes something completely different. She believes that those of us who choose to participate in a marathon of writing should just not bother. Our books are crap and she doesn't want to read them anyway. Yes - I am breaking all sorts of journalistic codes by calling her out for her attitude, but you know what, she deserves it.

It isn't her message that irritates me, it is the manner in which she delivers it. You know how we've been hearing a lot about bullies these days? Yeah, well she provided the world with an example of what a bully can do on the internet in the name of "editorial." In a 14 paragraph diatribe, Ms. Miller highly recommends that those of us who wish a challenge should not do the challenge we have chosen because "Frankly, there are already more than enough novels out there -- more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it's our job to do so." She also has some lovely things to say about writers in general which is ironic since she is paid to be one.

But here is where she has a point, several actually. In order for what we write to be useful to anyone other than us and our closest confidants we have to have someone interested in reading it. Now, what she doesn't get is that getting published is not everyone's goal in writing a book. Sure, a lot of us want to be published - I want to be published in novel format - but not everyone participating in NaNoWriMo is doing so for the glory. Some are writing in November because they have no other time to do so what with jobs, kids, volunteering that comes with kids, sports which also comes with kids, and house keeping. Notice any time for self in there? Nope. Some are participating to encourage their younger students or children to take pen to paper. Some are participating because it is required by their graduate level Creative Writing programs. Me, I'm writing because I can't not write and this November my husband and I have a deal. I start really writing every day so I can focus on turning my "little hobby" into a career eventually and he will encourage me every second I write.

Besides, just because writing is for us what quilting is to those who quilt or baseball to those who enjoy the game does not mean it is a worthless pursuit for us. Is baseball? Is football - a multibillion dollar organization in this country - a worthless pursuit?

Or is it because you've never yourself written a novel nor felt compeled to do so that you decided to bash everyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

There are some other valid points in the article as well having to do with NaNoWriMo perhaps taking on too much although it is actually the Office of Letters and Light who runs NaNo that may need to sit down and figure out what path they want to take as this little "stunt" grows larger every year. This "stunt" is now a fundraiser and just as marathon runners are sponsored we novelists are asked to find a way to help our collective organization keep the lights on so they can continuously help schools develop writing programs.

So, Ms. Miller - I would highly recommend you actually take a look at the organization, the "stunt" and the good it brings not just to the 185,000+ people participating around the globe this year but also to the kids who benefit from the Young Writers Programs sponsored in schools across the country. This is definitely one of the few multinational programs I know of that allows everyone to do their own thing and the same thing all at once accomplishing more than just the encouragement of writing but also the forging of new friendships in far away places.

I wonder if a challenge may be in order here. Ms. Miller - is it possible that you bashed and bullied those of us who write during November because you have become burnt out on the craft you chose as your career? Do you feel that you would be unable to complete the 50,000 words in a sustained story yourself? It's not to late to sign up now - You only need 8,335 words by the end of today to catch up. You don't even have to finish the book - just try it for a week. My guess is that you will have a new appreciation for those of us who persevere in pursuit of our dreams even in the face of someone who is shouting at us that we are stupid and our dreams are worthless. (And if that isn't bullying, I don't know what is!)

Who cares if no one ever reads what we write. We'll have written it. And isn't that what's important?

Now - off to my "worthless" writing. I have 15,201 words written, most of which will be revised over the course of the coming year. Thanks to all my supporters I have raised $135 for the Office of Letters and Light and feel confident I will be able to write another 2,000-3,000 words by the end of the day.

Thank you all!

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