The NaNoWriMo Backlash

November 14, 2006 | 8

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a group project which encourages participants “to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30” – (they couldn’t have picked a month with 31 days?). The quality of work produced by such speedwriting is questionable at best, I’d guess, but people seem to have fun doing it, just like some people seem to have fun climbing Mount Everest or participating in eating contests. The NaNoWriMo community also employs a lot of slap on the back, “you can do it!” type of encouragement, and the Web site lets you track your progress along with the other writers participating. I can think of many, many better ways to spend one’s time (and there are probably many, many better ways to write a novel), but NaNoWriMo is harmless, if a bit irritating if you stray too close to the frenzied participants.

Perhaps there have always been NaNoWriMo haters (it started in 1999), but I don’t recall having seen NaNoWriMo haters before this year (although that may have more to do with my studied averting of the eyes from the NaNoWriMo frenzy). However, this year I happened upon Eric Rosenfield’s anti-NaNoWriMo post, which lays out a few reasons to hate the endeavor, calling it “nothing if not oblivious to the absurdity of its own project.” The Rake has also jumped in to explain why NaNoWriMo is like eating so many shrimp.

In the end, though, hating NaNoWriMo is both too easy and pretty fruitless, like hating hippie music or “blue collar comedy.” It will always have its devotees, but the appeal of it probably doesn’t make sense to most people.

Update: More NaNoWriMo

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. I dunno — it seems to me I've read plenty of interviews with writers (and known plenty) who bang out first drafts in a similar time span. As long as the writer is willing to revise, I don't see the harm. There's a school of thought out there that says many writers do a quick draft, then a slow one, etc. Often, you don't know what the story is until you get it down. They're writing zero drafts, detailed outlines, and maybe a few real novels. I've also encountered writers who think the work to death before they start and so turn out quick, impeccable drafts that barely have to be rewritten.

    The only way you get better at writing is by doing it. At least some of these people will get a finished book draft* they can work with, throw away, whatever. It seems like the haytas are actually coming from an overly romanticized view of litr-a-chure as being perfectly, painstakingly written, and well, the draft you throw away, the white heat version seems just as much a reality to me. It's all hard work, no matter the speed, if you want the final draft to matter.

    * If you never finish it, who cares how slow and perfect you wrote it?

  2. I see your point. Maybe it's not the fast writing so much that I have a problem with, but it's the way NaNoWriMo turns this idea into an "event" rather than just a way to write a book. I mean, if you've got it in you to write a draft of a novel in a month, then get to it! Don't wait around until November! I suppose I question NaNoWriMo's usefulness to someone who's got a novel in them, but maybe it is a kickstart that some people find useful…

    More likely, though, it's a way for people who don't have it in them to write a novel to churn out 175 pages so they can say they've written a "novel."

  3. I had a whole comment about NaNoWriMo and because of blogger beta it was lost.

    But, to summarize what I had written that was eaten by blogger beta, I see no harm in NaNoWriMo. I'm doing it in the hopes of rebuilding the good habits of setting aside time each day to write. A writer isn't a writer if he isn't writing anything. Those who are playing at being writers just to say they wrote a novel aren't going to try to get the novel published, and if they tell anyone else they've written a "novel" no one is going to care or be impressed because anyone can write something, but getting it published is a whole other ballgame.
    Perhaps this exercise will teach those who think writing a book is something that just anyone can do that it really does take a lot of time, energy and work.

  4. I couldn't get through all of Rosenfield's post, mainly because he included wrong factual information right from the getgo. He says that NaNoWriMo's concept is borrowed from 24-Hour Comic, but he's got it backwards. The first 24-Hour Comic Day was in 2004 while NaNoWriMo has been around since 1999. If he can't bother to check the validity of his facts, I have to wonder about the validity of his opinion.

  5. nanowrimo is not going to lead to more crap clogging the marketplace. if anything, it is going to lead to more unpublished crap, and probably more unpublishable submissions. who cares? agents and editors already get so much unpublishable crap that they will probably not even notice an increase.

  6. Actually, the first 24-Hour Comic was done in 1990 by Scott McCloud, who invented the idea. It's even mentioned in his book "Understanding Comics" which was published in 1993. I don't know where Marydell got his/her info, but they should at least do a cursory fact check before accusing someone else of inaccuracy.

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