How to interpret NaNoWriMo rage

I have to wonder at the rants from NaNoWriMo haters. They go on at length about how NaNo participants are deluding themselves and how NaNo is not just a waste of time, but a counterproductive, poisonous opiate. Most offensive, apparently, is that NaNo writers believe they are writing novels, when anyone who knows anything about writing knows that they are just puking out worthless crap, with no resemblance to a real novel written by a real novelist

What are the haters so afraid of?

It takes work to be a novelist. Writing, re-writing, editing, navigating the treacherous waters of publication: all of these are difficult. Someone who's done it has every right to feel good about having accomplished something. Is this pride of accomplishment so fragile that it has to be defended with handfuls of broken bottles thrown backwards?

You know what you never see? You never see marathon runners sitting by the sidelines of a 5K Fun Run, shouting at the participants that they aren't really runners. You never see plumbers and carpenters walking through Home Depot telling the DIY crowd that they are delusional if they think that their knocked-together little home improvement projects are any good. You never see business owners sneering at the kid in the fast food drive-thru that she's not really a worker because her dead-end McJob is pathetic.

Actually, though, you do see that kind of sneering sometimes, don't you? Having attained a couple of rungs on the ladder, some people's first instinct is piss down at those still below. It's always distasteful to witness because it seems so needless and pathetic.

The novels produced during NaNoWriMo will be terrible. Everyone understands this. For many, perhaps for most, having produced a terrible novel will be enough. Some will want to go further. Either they will want to edit that terrible NaNo novel and make it a good novel, or they will try to write another, better novel. Odds are, that one will be bad, too. How many will go on to try again? I can guarantee that no one writes a good  novel without having first written a lousy one.

And no one writes a lousy novel without having at least one horrid, underdeveloped mess under their belts.

The book you write during NaNo is not the accomplishment; the new you is the accomplishment. Learn from your NaNo experience and go on to lead a better life. Even if you never write another word, you can, if you choose, see the world with new eyes. NaNo isn't the only life experience that can change you for the better (if you let it), but it's concrete, with defined rules and goals. It's pretty well organized, low cost, communal and communally supportive.

How do I interpret NaNoWriMo rage? "I work my ass off to be a writer; how dare you call yourself one after producing that half-baked, half-formed, half-literate slop?" I interpret it as insecurity.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Me, I'm just jealous of those who have the time to participate. But I don't hate on 'em.

  2. Love this! I encountered a NaNo rager just last week. He said something along the lines of "real writers don't have to wait for a special month to find the motivation to write their book." After I finished stomping and waving my hands, I responded that nobody is "waiting" for November to write their book; we do NaNo for the challenge and social experience!

  3. The quality of a NaNoWriMo novel can actually be pretty decent if it has a solid structural base, pre-conceived and fine-tuned in Sept and Oct.

    Seriously, most of the work of writing a novel is establishing the structure. Once that's erected, the words essentially paint that structure.

    1666 words a day is not that much. If you spend two or three hours a day at putting down the words, there is no reason they shouldn't be pretty quality.

    If anything, you should ask the NaNoWriMo haters why they think a quality draft can't be put together in a month? A real writer would know that if you have 8hrs a day to work on a novel, it should probably only take you a week.

    Good post Tony.

  4. I read a post by a 'hater' about an hour ago. His take was that 50k wasn't a novel.

    Funny, SFWA states 40k and up are novels. Hm, who to believe? ;p

    Of course, he qualified that by saying what editors/publishers were looking for was 60k YA novels, with adult novels being 70k or more.

    Which is fine, because yes, I do know that different publishers have different requirements for novels in the different genres.

    But 50k IS novel length, according to every official source I've discovered, so I was like 'Whatever'.

    I don't get the hate, myself. What's the big deal? That we're all having fun while writing?

    If you're not having fun writing, why would you do it?

  5. Hear hear, Tony. I love the comparisons to marathon runners & the like.

  6. Also, all first drafts are shit, for many writers. Why spend years producing a shit first draft of a novel when you could churn it out in a month? At least then you have something to work from - something to make good, as you said.

  7. No indeed, "real writers" don't have to wait till a special month to write. I know, we write all the time.

    But, "real writers" also know that deadlines help For some of us, they're really helpful. And I'll confess to doubting the veracity of anyone who suggests that deadlines don't play a valuable part.

    But I don't *get* the level of hate. I understand what you mean, Tony, about the side of human nature that wants/needs/just_the_hell_enjoys at looking down on those a rung or two below.

    The intensity, though, confuses me. But, then again, the intensity of a lot of such hatred confuses me.

    I'm just to lazy to misuse that amount of energy.

    Plus - the excitement of NaNo is just a blast. It's fun, communal, social, just a fun big deal. And who says writing can't be fun from time to time?

  8. @ FARfetched: It's a commitment, to be sure. Some years, it's just not possible.

    @ K.C. Neal: I hear a lot about what real writers do and don't do, need and don't need. If the need for external motivators were a rarity, our language wouldn't have terms like "external motivators". The communal aspect of it is a HUGE part of the experience.

    @ Michael A Tate: I'm glad you liked it! "The quality of a NaNoWriMo novel can actually be pretty decent if it has a solid structural base, pre-conceived and fine-tuned in Sept and Oct." Very true. One of the things NaNo sets out to counter, though, is the mental hurdle of "I'm afraid I can't write a decent book, so I might as well not do anything." I encouraged NaNo writers to plan and establish that structure, just as you do. Whether 1667 words per day is a lot depends on who is doing the writing, but a consistent production will certainly fill up the pages. I'm guessing that most people doing NaNo can't devote 8 hours per day to the task, but 2 would let you hit 1667.

    @ Scath: Excellent point. 40, 50, 60, 80, 100... in some markets, 100K would be a good beginning, nothing more. The length of the book isn't really important; it's what you put into it.

    @ Jen Brubacher: I do some woodworking, and I privately tend to look down on a lot of knock-together furniture. However, I would never denigrate someone else's DIY project. Similarly, I'm not a runner myself, but I've heard that marathoners do actually snicker among themselves at the schlubs doing the 5k Fun Runs. However, every marathon starts with running that first mile. The key thing is not that to pretend there's no difference between 5K and a marathon, or between a NaNo and a polished, well-written novel. The key thing is not to foam at the mouth over it.

  9. I think this kind of thing is based around envy. NaNo doesn't hurt anybody so why bother to attack it? Some people see other people trying to do something interesting or fun and rather than take part or support or ignore they try and destroy it so that it no longer threatens them.

    I just wish they'd spend the energy writing, running or painting etc themselves.

  10. I think everyone should do NaNo once. Like you said, I had a hot mess by the end of NaNo, but I wrote 55K words in 30 days and I learned more about myself, my writing sytle, my ability to push myself, my stamina, and the pure joy of hitting a goal, than any other experience in my entire life. And no hater can take that.

  11. I've just got major commitment issues. The idea of committing to 50,000 words in a month scares the crap out of me. But, I do like your post.

  12. There are plenty of poor books I've read that took years, so I don't think that length of time taken is any indicator of quality. The haters should probably stop worrying so much about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on their own stuff. Better for everyone!

  13. Re the 50k and the expected length of a novel ... with the rise in ebooks, it's no longer about how thick the spine is.

    How long before writers realise they can have a 'trilogy' of 2.99 books totalling 150,000 words? Three books on Amazon = three times the exposure, and most buyers will happily pay 2.99 for a 50-60k novel. If you're e-pubbing it makes no sense to publish a 150k novel for under $3 when it's three times the work.

    Mark my words, 'Divide and Conquer' will gain a new meaning.

  14. @ KjM: I love the broad brush used to say what "real" writers do and don't need. It's so clean, so simple, so easy to use. The same technique of generalization works just as well (and is just as accurate) when speaking about what various ethnicities, genders and politcal parties do and don't do. (Damn, what's the HTML code for "massive sarcasm quotes"?)

    @ Peter: I agree, it's an amazing outpouring of energy in a useless way.

    @ Danni: NaNo can be an excellent learning tool. If you approach it in the right frame of mind, it becomes a month-long teachable moment.

    @ Kwee: 50,000 is pretty scary. The first year I committed to doing it, I was practically hyperventilating at what I'd gotten myself into. But you know what? That was not just fear - it was EXCITEMENT. A whole new pathway lay before me, and conquering the fear made me a better, stronger person. I learned to trust myself more, and to know myself better. If you want to try it, I encourage you to link up with some friends and go for it.

    @ Icy: Too true. The effort expended to make a good book is not directly correlated with the speed of it's production.

    @ Simon: This is a very good point. Much of the inherited wisdom about book lengths derive from print runs - shelf space, cost of materials, bindings, etc. All of this goes right out the window for e.books and POD. Is 50K "not enough" for a book? Says who?


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