started in 1999 with a paltry 21 people participating (6 of whom reached the 50K word goal). By 2004, it had grown to 42,000 participants, of whom nearly six thousand
wrote 50,000 words or more1
. This yeah, 2005, it's continuing to grow. The NaNoWriMo
communities on LiveJournal
are filled with
"Hi, this is my first NaNo
, one of my friends convinced me to join" posts
. On October 1, when the website reopened for sign-ups and NaNoPrepMo2
, the amount of people accessing the site and signing up was so great that it crashed the servers
in a major way. That had never happened before; the servers had always been able to withstand the strain of the two months. On October 4, the site reopened
with new (more) servers.
As I stated earlier
, I'm not sure how I feel about this. Sure, I'm not required to feel anything
, but I know that I do. I just keep waffling between being pretty pleased (occaisonally) and slightly annoyed and concerned (most of the time).
On the pleasing side, it's good to see so many writers, young and old, learning to force their inner editors to stuff a sock in it and just write. As much as I prefer writing in complete solitude, being surrounded by a group of writers doing the same thing as me is inspiring. More people participating guarantees that there will be people in my area interested in doing write-ins.
However, the other hand, the much larger hand, is not pleased. At all.3
A portion of this is, of course, the discomfort felt by a minor niche of the population when the mainstream decide what they are doing is "cool". I have the same issue with NaNoWriMo becoming so popular as I did with gaming platforms becoming the "in" thing, punk and goth becoming the looks to have, playing multiple instruments wasn't just for band geeks. Those traits used to be things I used to indentify myself, to set myself apart from the mainstream population. The groups who identified with me were often closeknit, providing a sense of family and belonging.
As NaNoWriMo becomes more mainstream, that sense is lost. In the beginning, it allowed the winners4
into two subsets of the population: the first being those people who are participating in NaNoWriMo, the second being novel writers themselves. That first subset has grown so large that it's potentially considered (at least within the subset itself) not to be much of a subset anymore. In my own opinion, it's reached mainstream: most people have heard of it and many participate. The second subset has also grown larger as NaNoWriMo grows larger, thus somehow seeming to cheapen the glory of having a novel to call your own.
There's also the issue of what is being produced. The more people who participate, the more potential for there to be, to put it bluntly, utter crap produced. I'm talking about crap that can not be improved by that writer no matter how many times he or she edits and fixes it.
This was seen with the world of fanfiction a while back. There was a time (which I admit that I barely remember) when writing fanfiction was something that almost no one
did. Back when it was solely 'zines, a fanfic'er had to work hard to get a story in one of the fanzines. When fanfic first started appearing on the internet and FanFiction.Net
was created, writing fanfic still was not a popular hobby. Most of the people who did write and post online made sure their work followed canon and that it was written well
. Now? You go to FFN and 90% of it is crap written by a 13-year-old on a sugar high who's only seen one episode of the TV show, read one chapter of the book, seen half an hour of the movie.
Of course, this isn't likely to happen with publishing novels. There's some sort of a guarantee that what gets published will at least have some semblence of quality. Or so you would think.
Have you read Eragon
? Or Digital Fortress
? No one could claim that those books were any good upon truly looking at them. And yet, they still sell many copies, they're still being produced, and the authors are still receiving royalties. Crap is still marketable.
It worries me that the increase in writers will cause in increase in bad novels being produced. And this will, in turn, create an increase in bad novels being published by legit5
publishers. Nevermind how many inexperienced NaNo'ers will take their babies to a vanity press (assuming they can afford to do so), not realizing how much of a bad idea that is.
Every year, a NaNoWriMo newbie seems to find an article
by Alma A. Hromic and posts
it to the main community on LiveJournal, causing yet another mini hissyfit by some participants.6
"Last year, the NaNoWriMo phenomenon gathered over 5000 hopefuls, of whom 700 succeeded in producing their 50,000 words by the midnight deadline. "They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists," the NaNoWriMo website says.
I'm deeply sorry to wreck this comfortable illusion, but this is self-delusional at best, a flat out lie at worst."
On the one hand, I understand where the responders on the two sites are coming from. The tone of the article is (more than) a bit holier-than-thou. Hromic really does seem to be overreacting to something that's more "just a bit of fun" than "serious business" to most people.
"So you want to write? Write. If you don't have it in you, that thing that drives you, the thing that needs to be said - then find another dream. Make the bourbon for the tortured artists to drink. Bake them a cake. Build them a house.
Don't diminish their accomplishments by calling yourself "a novelist." If writing is your hobby and your interest, that's perfectly fine. For many of us, it's a living. For some of us, it's a vocation. There are people who want to "be writers," and people who want to write. Find out which you are. If it's the latter, you don't need NaNoWriMo - you will not be scared away by the necessary time and effort, you will not be scared away by the bourbon and the coffee and the leftovers. You WILL write, because you cannot not write. If it's the former... find a real writer somewhere and cure yourself of the romantic ideas of what a writer's life is like. And then go and sin no more."
On the other hand, I understand where she's coming from. It has been my plan to become a "writer" since I was a youngling. Everything I've done in life has been to further my goal to be able to support myself on writing alone. Hell, I even have English-with-a-focus-in-Creative-Writing as one of my majors. I can't quite claim to be "a real writer" yet. Yes, I've won short story contests. Yes, I wrote a 80K novel before I discovered NaNoWriMo, but it was typical of a determined young teenager and not something that will ever be pubished. However, I'm working there on my own time, not just during November. Not even mostly
I would agree that NaNoWriMo "cheapens" the non-NaNo-writer's career. Now that everyone
feels that writing a novel is accesible to them, now that it's no longer a someday thing, but a thismonth event, writers are nolonger people to be idolized. A large part of my childhood involved looking up to authors. I wanted to be one of those people
. I wanted to be up there with Terry Pratchet, not with 14-year-old Jessie from down the street.
NaNoWriMo makes it so that everyone can call themselves novelists, this is true. The more people who participate, the more people who win, the more people who are "novelists", the less special it is for me to be a writer. In a way, I'm watching the dreams of my childhood fall into the toilet. In a way, this is probably an over-reaction and I'm taking NaNoWriMo "far too seriously". But as long as there are people who view it the way I do, it's an issue.
So I suppose that raises the question, why do I even participate in NaNoWriMo then? I'll save that one for a later post.
___________________________________1data found in the NaNoWriMo General FAQ
2unofficial title of October, according to me
3Forgive me for any disjointedness in this piece of my post. I "wrote" all of my major points while walking to class this morning and, well, five hours later, I've forgotten the majority of them.
4I'll admit that I've never won. However, I've come damn close and "won" in off months when I completely both novels I started during November.
5I, personally, do not count vanity presses as legit. When you have to pay someone to publish your book? That's pretty sketchy.
6Emailed responses here and here. Scroll down a bit to find them.