Thursday, 4 November 2010

An open letter - or a response...Laura Miller vs NaNoWriMo

As I sit here, preparing to type this out I am overcome with nerves. I fear that I will come off as woefully uneducated or just another person standing on their soapbox spouting their beliefs and truly believing that their view is the right and only view when I know it isn't. That being said, I also feel I cannot stand by and let people feel bad for being themselves or doing something that they really enjoy.

In case you haven't heard about NaNoWriMo I will give you a basic run down. This is all my own understanding and I am more than happy to have someone correct me if I get anything wrong. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month where the aim is to write 50 000 words in 30 days. This can be a whole novel or novella depending on your views of word count or it can just be part of a novel. There is no prize aside from the knowledge that you managed to write that amount in the time limit. Not everyone can do this and, as has been pointed out, the work that does come is not going to be of a publishable standard.* Yet, as far as I am aware, the pure goal is a test to your own abilities and it is also something to do for fun. Yes, fun...I know it seems like a rare idea but for me this is the whole reason I am attempting to do NaNoWriMo. After a year of writing essays and attending teaching placements writing an almost stream of consciousness form of writing is like diving into a swimming pool on the first day in Summer when the weather is just right. It is refreshing. **

Why am I going into this, you may ask? Well, my attention was drawn to Laura Miller, a writer of Salon, who posted the following article panning NaNoWriMo. Better yet, DON'T write that novel. I'm not going to pick it to pieces because everyone has the right to their opinion. I can understand where she is coming from and I am not here to call names or to villianise anyone but I do feel that there are two points that she brings up that I feel come across rather...condescending.

The first point is that she thinks NaNoWriMo is a waste of time. Sure, it can be if you are on the outside looking in. That being said you can say the same thing about absolutely everything. Personally, I feel rugby is a waste of time and I'm a New Zealander - it's our heritage...*** So, Laura, you can think whatever you like about NaNoWriMo - just remember that people are going to disagree and argue against it. Although, I feel that your argument was very one sided I still feel that you were giving your opinion - though, to be honest, you could have been somewhat less aggressive in your commentary as belittling people doesn't make for positive comments.

The second point is the more serious matter and here is where I might have to drag out my soap box because, as a pre-service teacher, I have seen first hand the effects of reading. I have worked in two schools in my training and I have to say that I found a strong streak of avid readers and an equally strong streak of people who hate reading. The reason I bring this up is that I feel you are wanting to encourage reading, am I right? And for that, I applaud you. There is nothing more exciting than entering Narnia for the first time, or adventuring through the Forbidden Forest. I still remember crying as Beth died or feeling the excitement of reading Wilkie Collins. I dove head first into Wonderland and have had many adventures in Tortall. I have fought pirates and have flown on a luck dragon.

With that being said - the way you have gone about trying to encourage people to pick up a book is not the way about it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you are saying that anyone who doesn't read Chabon, Franzen or Eggers is not a real reader. To me, that is just literary snobbery and that is one of the reasons that many people choose not to read. (This is in my own experiences and I know this is a bold generalisation.)

And, if that truly is your view I feel almost sorry for you. Reading is not always about reading the books that appear on best seller lists. Reading is not about reading a book so you can tell people that you've read all the great classics. Reading is about fun. Reading is about adventure and, most importantly, reading is about enjoying yourself. I don't choose a book by the number of weeks it has been on a bestseller list. I buy a book because I've been told by a friend that it is good or I've read an extremely good review.

I am a strong advocate for literacy because I find it sad that there are children out there who haven't had the same joy that I have had in my adventures through the pages. But, if one child picks up a book, be it a picture book, a graphic novel or Dickens, then that is a good sign. We cannot stand over people and beat them with books in the hope that they will read. We need to encourage people to find a book that they like. And, once they find an author that they like we need to support them so that they foster that love of reading.

I'm going to get off my soap box now - mainly because I'm rather short of stature and my soap box is unnecessarily high. Also, I wouldn't mind getting back to my attempt at NaNoWriMo

Thank you to everyone who got to the end of this post. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know your own views. Like I said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Peace, love and pancakes.

* I could be wrong because, being human, I don't know everyone in the world nor do I know the extent of their writing abilities. All I know is there is no way in hell that I would send my 'manuscript' off after 30 days of writing and no editing...
** I am at the tail end of completing my post grad diploma of secondary teaching.
*** Sorry New Zealand and all rugby fans. I've been to games but it's just not my cuppa tea...


  1. What a bizarre article. It was clearly written as a reactionary piece... I imagine she said something over drinks to the effect of "I hate this NaNoWriMo thing" and her editor said "hey, why don't you do a piece about that? It could get a lot of pageviews." It has so many scattershot ideas contained withing it (and so many missed opportunities) that it strikes me as something bashed out in an hour, barely revised (ironically) and written by someone who would prefer not to be writing about NaNoWriMo at all.

    Anyway, I agree with a lot of the spirit of what she says, but to condemn NaNoWriMo and all of its participants to the 'waste of time' bin is pretty short-sighted... especially in the context of saying "THEY NEVER REVISE ANYTHING!!!11!!" At bottom I also hope that more people get into reading, and don't really care whether my efforts get published. It would be nice, but I'd really rather have a few days to spend in a library, focused on the worlds that good writers create.

    Hey, nice blog by the way! Keep it up!

  2. I agree. I felt somewhat awkward at writing a response because I can understand people not understanding or not wanting to understand NaNoWriMo and I'm a strong believer of 'each to their own.' Though I love that image of her getting tipsy and thinking about what to write next.

    The main reason I felt so strongly about this article was that she seemed to make some interesting generalisations about what makes good literature and this saddened me. I love reading and I get excited when I see people enjoying a good book for the sake of it.

    At the end of the day, writers will always write and most, if not all, of them are going to read.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting.