NaNoWriMo, Writing Stuff

Writing is Never a Waste of Time

I have a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing: I majored technical writing and minored creative writing.

I don’t tell you this to brag, but to tell you that I know a little something about writing. (Though am not an expert and have likely forgotten most of what I learned by now).

I learned how to translate technical language into user-friendly language.

I learned the fine art of story telling (this is not to say that I practice the fine art of story telling – I’m still pretty much a newb when it comes to writing fiction … but it’s not for lack of trying).

I also learned that some writers? Take themselves WAY too seriously.

Seriously.

My technical writing classes weren’t that bad – we were there to do a job, it was pretty cut and dried.

But my creative classes were a lot more subjective; creative writing is an art, a subjective art. Some people hate what you write, other people enjoy what you write. It’s the luck of the draw. The only thing writers can do is write from their heart; you can’t please everyone, it’s impossible.

That’s why it’s called subjective – arising out of or identified by means of one’s perception. Or in other words, what appeals to one person doesn’t necessarily appeal to the next person.

Art is funny like that.

I read a lot of different writing styles in those classes, and I always tried to keep an open mind about what I was reading. I tried to look past the grammatical errors, or the sloppy descriptions, or the plot holes and focus on the POTENTIAL so that when it came time for me to give my critique, I would be able to give the writers something helpful to either learn from, or try the next go around.

And I appreciated when they did the same for me. (As opposed to saying, “there probably should have been a comma here.”)

Most of the writers were a pleasure to work with. We joked around, we brainstormed, we bonded.

And then … there were the writers who stuck their noses in the air, who thought they were so much better than the rest of us “lowly” wannabes. They were the writers who felt like all writing should be GOOD writing – who agonized over every line until it was perfect, (it’s never perfect), who ultimately never wrote anything as a result, and who were more likely to drown their angst in alcohol because they felt not to do so somehow indicated they weren’t “true” writers.

The rest of us? Laughed at them because their self-importance was truly ridiculous.

I have since been very sensitive to overly-serious writers. I have never understood some writers’ attitudes when it came to writing. I especially don’t understand how some writers can get so bent out of shape over a very rewarding writing exercise … like National Novel Writing Month.

Quite frankly, I resent writers who have a holier-than-thou-this-is-a-waste-of-your-time-and-everyone-else’s-time attitude when it comes to the NaNoWriMo program. (And NaNoWriMo is the acronym. So it sounds like something Mork would have said from “Mork and Mindy“, get over it).

I have a serious problem with writers who try and convince us that this program is a waste of time.

For whom? You? Because any program that promotes writing, that fires people up about writing, that encourages people to follow their dreams of writing a book (and yes, I realize that 50,000 words isn’t exactly a book, but it’s a pretty damn good start), that encourages people to be more aware of the importance of writing is not ever, EVER, a waste of time.

As in NEVER.

The writers that criticize this program have every right to express their opinions. They have every right to refuse to participate. They do not, however, have the right to discourage other people from taking part or to somehow make people feel like they’re not “real” writers if they participate.

They’re not “real” writers? By whose definition? Yours? Who died and made you the end-all authority on such matters?

You might be wondering where this rant is coming from. I read a post today at Salon.com entitled, “Better yet, DON’T write that novel:
Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy
.” That title alone is enough to start my blood boiling. You can imagine how fired up I got after reading the piece.

The gist of the article is this:

Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

Though I can appreciate Ms. Miller’s attempts to encourage more people to read, I’m all for that endeavor, I don’t think discouraging people from writing, or telling them that doing something they’ve always wanted to do is a waste of time and “hey, why don’t you read instead” is the way to get the message across.

(Here’s an idea Ms. Miller: if the thought of thousands of writers taking part in a personal challenge bothers you that much, then put your money where your mouth is and start a National Read as Much as You Can in a Month program).

True. Reading is an essential ingredient to writing – reading actually educates a potential writer and helps him/her to improve his/her own writing, but to use the argument that there are too many books out there already and there’s never any way anyone could ever read them all, is a pretty weak argument.

I’m pretty sure people don’t have any aspirations to read everything out there. And I’m pretty sure people have no desire to read the same things – our interests are different, hence the reason there are so many books out there, to accommodate those interests.

I can also appreciate Miller’s derision that writing is a business. Again, yes. People buy how-to write books by the bookshelves. But to me, that just demonstrates people’s desire to learn more about the art of writing so they can someday try their hand at it. That’s not to be frowned upon, but celebrated.

But this part, this is what caused my eyes to cross in irritation:

I am not the first person to point out that “writing a lot of crap” doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November.

As someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them, I share their trepidation. Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read. (That said, it has generated one hit, and a big one: “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, who apparently took the part about revision to heart.) The last thing the world needs is more bad books. But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.

Wow. First of all, who’s to say that the writer is writing crap? Secondly, why does Ms. Miller feel like she’s the ultimate person to judge whether what someone writes is crap. Thirdly, again, why does Ms. Miller assume that participating in this challenge is a waste of time? To her, maybe. But not to the person who filled the drawer.

And lastly, who says the writer participating in NaNoWriMo wants anyone to read it? The reasons people participate in the challenge are varied and certainly personal.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge, Ms. Miller. It’s a chance for someone to do something spectacular. It’s a chance for people to stretch their creative muscles and see how much they can bench press. It’s a chance for people to feel like they’ve accomplished a seemingly impossible task.

NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary.

Again, because YOU say it’s unnecessary then it’s automatically deemed unnecessary? And using that same logic, I suppose you’re also implying that writing conferences, “an event geared entirely toward writers,” is also unnecessary?

As with any art, Ms. Miller, writing takes practice. It is a rare person indeed that can actually sit down and produce something worth printing in the very first draft. I daresay the writers you enjoy reading so much produced some pretty CRAPPY first drafts.

Granted, there are some inexperienced writers out there that think they can simply participate in NaNoWriMo and go on to get it published without revising, without editing, but should we punish their naivety by denying them the experience of challenges like these?

There’s really nothing more I can add, everything is pretty much covered in the comment section, but I felt compelled to throw my two cents into the opinion pool because I am so sick and tired of seeing snotty writers criticize a pretty awesome program all in the name of “well, it’s not REALLY writing after all.”

That’s such a load of crap. Writing is writing, no matter what form it takes. And I think it’s arrogant and foolish to discourage anyone from trying their hand at it. It’s even more condescending to imply that people that take the bull by the horns, that make time in their busy schedules, who dare to dream big, are wasting their time by participating.

Writers, ignore these naysayers and participate if you want. What you put into the program is what you take away from it. Have fun. Let loose. Give yourself permission to just write it out.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll prove Ms. Miller wrong and go on and get it published; you’ll never know if you don’t try.

I for one say, write your heart out.

(ADDED: I’m not really as upset by this article as my post implies, but I am irked. I also think that Miller’s piece was most likely deliberately condescending to generate controversy thereby giving Salon.com and Ms. Miller’s page clicks. But maybe I’m just being cynical).