Over at her own site, Mary Robinette Kowal notes that at the moment there are some published novelists who are bagging on National Novel Writing Month and calling it waste of time and a bad idea for aspiring writers. She counters this by noting that her novel Shades of Milk and Honey (which is fabulous, by the way) was a NaNoWriMo novel — that is to say she wrote it first as part of the that experience, then finished it and sent it off. So the suggestion that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time and/or effort is pretty definitively rebutted in her own experience.
My own comments to folks, professional novelists or otherwise, who want to hate on NaNoWriMo is as follows:
1. Dude, a program that encourages thousands of people annually to celebrate the act of creating words — of creating their own words — and you want to piss all over that? If you look to the right, I have some kittens you can set on fire while you’re at it.
2. Even if you think it’s a waste of time, it’s not a waste of of your time, so why do you care?
3. Alternately, even if something like NaNoWriMo doesn’t match your own writing process, there are a lot of writing processes out there. So if this one works for some aspiring writers, don’t crap on them for it.
The third point here is especially salient. One of the kvetches I’ve seen from the pro set about NaNoWriMo is that writing a novel only in one month, once a year, is not the way pros do it, and it sets a bad example for up and coming writers. And my own response to that is, well, maybe that’s not how you do it. But you know what, in 2009 I wrote one novel, and I wrote in about five weeks very much on a NaNoWriMo plan of writing a certain volume of words per day, and then for the rest of the year I did and wrote other things. I have to say it worked out pretty well for me. And I’m fairly sure I qualify as a pro. I mean, I’ll have to check. But for now let’s assume I am.
As Mary notes over on her site, one of the hardest things newer writers face when tackling a novel is conceptualizing the idea that they are going to scale a mountain of words in one extended go. Writing a novel’s worth of words is hard, and it’s even harder when you’ve not done it before and you’re psyching yourself out about it. NaNoWriMo offers a way for these writers to take a swing at that process in a systematized fashion, and in a crowd, and both of these things can offer a fair amount of psychological comfort to a person embarking on what is in fact a lonely and arduous process of sitting in front of a keyboard with a goal of about two thousand words a day.
Is it going to work for everyone? No. Is it going to be useful for everyone? No. But it’s going to be useful for some, and that’s fine – the ones it’s not useful for will find some other way to climb that mountain. Meanwhile the skills that those it works for learn — write every day, keep writing, get that story done – are skills that are transferable outside of the NaNoWriMo context and will be a benefit when that new writer, having completed the task of writing 50,000 words in one month, decides to try to write 100,000. In April. Or whenever. Yes, there may be some people who fetishize NaNoWriMo or take less than useful lessons from it (“Novels must be 50,000 words! They must only be written in November!”), but let’s entertain the notion that this will be more about those particular people than it is about NaNoWriMo.
So if you’re a pro novelist or whomever wringing your hands over NaNoWriMo, remember that hands are for typing, not for wringing, and get back to your own work and let the kids have their fun. If you’re a NaNoWriMo participant and you’ve heard the grousing of the pros, ignore it and enjoy your experience of banging out words. In the end, no one cares how or why or under what circumstances a novel has been created, they care about the words on the page. Readers don’t read process. They read novels.