The Lilac Pilgrim – Yet Another Blog

Of Skeptics And Killjoys: The Malicious Scribblings of Laura Miller

Posted on: November 4, 2010

In retrospect, this sounds like a much better idea for a novel, rather than the circus-themed one I’m doing for this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Enjoyed by writers and non-writers all over the world, NaNoWriMo helps to motivate those who are writers to finally finish just one novel, or helps the non-writers to get over their fears of writing in order for them to get that idea that’s been floating around out of their heads. It’s a challenge, it’s a community and it’s, overall, fun. However, as we’ve seen over the years, not everyone is as appreciative of the idea as faithful ‘nanoers’ are. “Oh no!” they cry, “Bad novels will be written by the truckload!” They run in circles and panic as we rejoice in our impressive word counts and congratulate one another on a job well done so far. They don’t want us to write! How awful is that? People being productive for an entire month and meeting new people! The horror!

It sounds awfully melodramatic, doesn’t it? People being terrified that other people might possibly be writing novels. But this does seem to be the opinion of one Laura Miller, ‘senior writer at Salon.com’. Her article, titled Better yet – DON’T write that novel (encouraging, no?) deems the much-celebrated writing marathon “a waste of time and energy”. Already that seems harsh. But she doesn’t stop there, oh no. She goes on to claim that there is “no reason to cheer [aspiring writers] on” and insists that rather than write, we all quit and read some books instead. Hmm. Like her own, I wonder?

As a woman who has been reading and writing since she was very little, I have to wonder what makes someone who is being paid to write actively discourage people from writing? We should all read, sure, I agree. I don’t agree that, for one month of the year, we should be allowed to put aside all our worries and barriers and force ourselves to write. So let’s take a look at this article, shall we?

“For me, the end of October is always slightly tinged with dread — provoked not by Halloween spooks, not even by election season, but by the advent of something called NaNoWriMo.”

Already we can see that this is probably going to be greatly exaggerated, anecdotal, and somewhat melodramatic. But why are you scared, Ms Miller? No-one’s tying you to a chair, holding your eyelids open and making you read their books.

“NaNoWriMo was started back in 1999 as a motivational stunt for a small group of writer friends. It’s since become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fundraising gala and, last year, nearly 120,000 contestants. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have do is meet that goal, however wretched the result. Last year’s NaNoWriMo had 21,683 such winners.”

She doesn’t actually ever say what’s wrong with motivation. She doesn’t also note that NaNoWriMo encourages young people to explore their own creativity through their Young Writers Program. Also, after writing this post I took another look around. Seems she also missed out NaNoWriMo’s partnership with international children’s literacy program Room To Read. She also points out, rather fairly, that it doesn’t matter how good or bad the novel is once it has reached the 50,000 word goal; as long as you’re there, you’ve won. Interestingly, however, she says nothing about the sense of accomplishment one can feel once they’ve reached that goal, or how many of the writers go back to edit their novel, or how a lot of those winners achieved nearly double (if not more) the necessary word count, or even how small a number compared to the amount of participants that 21,683 actually is.

She goes on to talk about what NaNo is, in her own negative terms. Then we get this gem, likely spawned from the site’s FAQ which reassures the perfectionist writer whose nature constantly defeats them that it’s absolutely fine to write crap. For November only. It does actually encourage you to go back and edit if you’re serious about it.

“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 itis November.”

I don’t like the idea of writing a lot of crap within a month or so either, but hey, Twilight got published, and that wasn’t even a NaNo novel.  Me, I write NaNo novels because I would like to actually get through one of my novels. I’ve been reading since I was one and a half and writing since I was maybe four. I’ve finished one novel since, and no, it’s never even been a hard copy, never mind sending it to publishers. I set up obstacles for myself all the time, preventing me from writing. November is one of those months during which I can knock down those obstacles and force myself to write. That’s why most people do it.

“And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it’s clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they’ll shortly receive.”

If you’re going to use Twitter as a source of information, frankly you don’t deserve your ‘senior writer’ title. And of course people are going to ignore revision. Even those who don’t do NaNo will ignore revision. But the editors tweeting about how horrible there manuscripts are going to be should likely be doing something better with their time than moaning about it on Twitter, and secondly probably don’t have to read them. I wouldn’t be surprised, really, if most of the modern slush-piles were full of unread NaNos from years gone by.

“As someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them, I share their trepidation.”

Why? Do you get sent the manuscripts, too? As far as I can see, Ms Miller, all you do is read books and tell people how to feel about them.

“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.”

You’re absolutely correct. Unfortunately, bad books do slip through the net every now and then – go through the romance section in a library or read Twilight – but if these editors from the previous paragraphs don’t like the NaNos, they won’t publish them. You will never have to read them. Now, some people might point out that I have moaned about things that I did not have to read, but did anyway. The difference here is that I can get access to pretty bad fan fiction while trying to reach good fiction. Ms Miller will likely never have to see these bad NaNo novels – and unless the author posts them on a website and drags her there, she’ll never gain access to them either.

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

She claims much later on in the article that writers will keep on writing whether people like it or not, and that’s why this is unnecessary. She sounds like the annoying kind of woman who has never suffered writer’s block or had a cold in her life. The sort of person who has no empathy because they’ve never experienced hardships and they poop rainbows. Now, I’m sure this isn’t the case. I’m sure she’s had what she may call hardships and difficulties before, but the lack of empathy for other writers astounds me.

“It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.”

This is referring to a bookstore that encouraged NaNoers by setting up a space for them. I don;t really care where people write their novels. I write mine at home but I can understand why people do so in bookstores, surrounding themselves with inspiration. However, Ms Miller writes that writing is narcissistic, whereas reading is selfless, almost heroic. I don’t understand how, exactly, it’s such a frightening challenge to read, but then I’m one of those insufferable bitches who can read a novel in a day or so (or less, depending) and move quickly onto the next. And is it just be, or is it somewhat hypocritical for a writer to say that writing is narcissistic? Especially one with her own book. Okay, it may be a non-fiction endeavour, but that doesn’t make it any less of a book.

“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.”

No-one ever asked you, Ms Miller, to read every book on the planet. That would be impossible. I haven’t read every new book there ever was. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t either. I’m sorry if the idea of new books is frightening to you but they’ll happen with or without NaNo. Even without NaNo, there would still be writers’ communities, competing to finish novels in small amounts of time. For you, it just seems like a lose/lose situation.

“This is not to say that I don’t hope that more novels will be written, particularly by the two dozen-odd authors whose new books I invariably snatch up with a suppressed squeal of excitement.”

Everyone has their favourites, nothing wrong with that. But it does seem awfully narrow-minded to only be excited by a couple dozen authors.

“Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books.”

How exactly? There are lots of writers who also read. Yes, there are some people who take up too much of their own time writing far too much instead of reading but there will always be plenty of readers. No, we are not an endangered species. We are not in need of money from sponsors to keep us alive in zoos and sanctuaries. People don’t crowd around to have a look at the Huxley fan squabbling with the Orwell fan for precious paper.

“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?”

Yeah! Great idea! Goodness knows we don’t have any festivals or book clubs, right? Or reading challenges, or tv shows about book clubs!

“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.”

And I can use your logic to point out that, if everyone’s reading, who’ll be left to write for them? People will be reading and going “Oh no, I wish there was a novel about something I just thought of, but sadly, I must read. Whoever will write this novel for me?” See, I can use rubbish logic, too.

“In her victory-lap blog post, Klug writes of discovering new favorite authors she might otherwise never have encountered, and of her sadness on being reminded that “most Americans don’t read ANY books in a given year, or just one or two.” Instead of locking herself up in a room to crank out 50,000 words of crap, she learned new things and “expanded my reading world.” So let me be the first to say it: Melissa and Kalen, you are the heroes.”

That’s fantastic. I cannot stress enough how important it is to expand your horizons. I have learned so much while researching my novels — whoops! I forgot, that doesn’t count for anything in Miller’s world.

Seriously though, yes, reading is great. Reading allows you to take a trip into another person’s world, to learn new things and escape from reality. For me, writing is the same thing. Except it’s in a world that I created and control. I’m not saying everyone should quit reading and write instead. I still read as well as write. But why shouldn’t there be something like NaNoWriMo?

Miller insists that bad novels will be written and we should all be terrified. People should stop writing their NaNo novels, because it’s pointless and no-one’s allowed to have fun ever. Unless you read. And then  write about it somewhere.  Like Ms Miller, for example.

My opinion? I enjoy writing for NaNo. It helps spur me on when I see that gauge fill up the more I write. I like procrastinating with other writers on the forums and helping others in their research. It’s a community, it’s fun, it’s escapism. I’m still not entirely sure why Ms Miller is intimidated by it really, but it smacks of Stop Having Fun Guys. (Only click that link if you have a day or two to spare.) Maybe she should, I don’t know, give it a try? Actually talk to these writers? Stop writing herself? You know, since she wishes everyone would just read more.

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  • None
  • HoistTheColours: Dear author, I full-heartedly and absolutely agree with your above statements. I just thought I would let you know, since I don't quite understand w
  • richclark: I covered this in my blog too. Found your post on one of Wordpress' random (associated posts). Has Ask really made the impact it needed to from
  • The Lilac Pilgrim: I couldn't go anywhere without someone mentioning it. It was incredibly obvious and yet people were still arguing about it. Absolutely ridiculous.
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