images.jpegThat’s the title of an article in by author Laura Miller.

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. 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. “Submitting novels in Nov or Dec?” tweeted one, “Leave NaNoWriMo out of the cover letter … or make it clear that it was LAST year’s NaNo.” Another wrote, “Worst queries I ever received as an agent always started with ‘I’ve just finished writing my NaNoWriMo novel and …'”

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.


  1. Ho hum. One more ignorant anti-NaNo article that would be a waste of time and energy to read. Whatever else the author has to say, it can be countered with one simple statement: there’s no *requirement* that you write crap.

    For what it’s worth, Stephen King’s daily quota used to be 2,000 words a day, every day.

  2. This will be my third NaNo and I’ve revised both previous manuscripts and plan to revise this one. I think you are tarring NaNo with a brush meant for people who don’t know the process. People write and submit crap all year long.

    I will tell you that the two books I’ve done so far have been the best first drafts I have ever turned out. I ‘crank out’ 60 to 80k in word count in November. And I’m fully aware it’s first draft. But, writing everyday is common advice and it allows you to get deeper into the story than you would otherwise. I find twists and turns that I would normally over analyze but during NaNo, I just get it on the page.

    So, don’t trash NaNo because some participants think it’s a good idea to submit a first draft.


  3. NaNo is a waste of time like immersing yourself in any creative endeavor is a waste of time. That is, it isn’t. The idea is not to write something publishable in 30 days, it’s to prioritize writing for 30 days instead of the dishes, or the job, or the video games.

    The fact that people turn around and try to publish unpublishable material is one small aspect of the project, and though I can understand the chagrin of any agent faced with a sudden deluge of bad NaNo novels, this does not make NaNo worthless. Some of us write with no aim for publication, but for personal fulfillment, and it does provide that. There has not been a second while I was writing my NaNo novel that I felt like I was wasting my time, even though I use it for pet projects that I do not intend to publish.

  4. What many writers find is that our internal editors can be crippling. I’ve got a friend (multipublished) who’s been starting a mystery for years, but is so handicapped by her need to be perfect that she simply can’t get it going. NaNoWriMo is not for everyone and many of the novels written will simply be consigned to the bit bucket, but it’s a great opportunity to turn off the editor and focus on getting a story written. As some famous author (I think it was Nora Roberts) said, you can fix a bad book, but you can’t fix no book at all.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher (and 2010 NaNoWriMo participant)

  5. If you don’t like NaNoWriMo, don’t do it. Otherwise, what do you care? If Laura Miller wants people to read more and write less, she shouldn’t have buried the lede; she shouldn’t have waited until the last paragraph to promote the 10/10/10 challenge. Yes, I did NaNoWriMo one year, and I may do it again some time. Yes, I produced 50K words of crap, but it was 50K words of crap I needed to write, and NaNoWriMo provided a structure and a discipline for me to do it.

  6. As a wanna be writer I was, to be honest, quite bewildered by this article and it’s motivation.

    “Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it?”

    Since when does dedicating a month to writing full time mean that one ‘insists’ people read the first draft ? I just read the explanation of “National Novel Writing Month” and no where does it suggest submitting the final piece to ANYone. In fact quite the opposite, the campaign emphasises the value of just letting go and writing anything that comes to mind AS AN EXERCISE in discipline, habit building, creative juice encouraging.


  7. I have to disagree with the author. For me, NaNoWriMo is an exercise in exercising control over my inner critic. The results ripple out into my public speaking and customer service. Do I ever expect to publish my novel? No. Does that make it a waste of time? Only if you’re a short sighted person who fails to grasp the gestalt of the experience. I thought Laura Miller was smarter than this.

  8. Why is it that everyone who thinks NaNoWrimo is a waste of time is “someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them.” Everything I’ve ever written and published started as a first draft that could be called “a lot of crap.”

    As was rightly stated, writing requires revision, lots of revision. Editing too. But it must first start with someone getting ideas on paper. That’s what NaNoWrimo is all about. The need for revision and editing is stated clearly, loudly, and almost pedantically by the NaNoWrimo people and those who participate in it. That some fail to follow that advice is not surprising, but it has little to do with the value of the NaNoWrimo experience.

    Cheers — Larry

  9. Paul, I agree with you. I’ve always felt it’s a waste of time. If a person can devote an entire month to writing crap, why not devote four months to striving for a better first draft? A bad first draft can be a real albatross around the neck. Sure, revision is important, but if you’re going to plant seeds and sew the ground with salt all at the same time, you’re betting on a poor crop. Instead, climb the mountain a little and go for that rich, volcanic soil and then come back four months later with a really good answer to “where have you been?”

  10. If one views National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo sounds like something Mork would say) as mere encouragement, then it is all well and good, though I must admit I’d never heard of such a thing until this moment. I have nothing against the idea, per say… however, a true writer MUST write and needs no specially-named month in order to compose their prose. Indeed, these self-same, self-starting writers fill up notebooks–or the backs of envelopes–even when ordered not to by all-powerful governments.

  11. Meredith – from the web site of the National Novel Writing Month:
    “Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.
    Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.”

    So the only REAL writers are those compelled to write ? Please……….

  12. “omg! Write something! Anything! Quick!”

    Those compelled to write without sensationalized prompts I admittedly quantify as “true” writers. The idea of quantity over quality is mainly what is wrong with today’s society. But, perhaps I am being too picky and am overlooking the possibility that a few folks like reading slap-dash novels.

    Poems, on the other hand, can feasibility be penned on the fly… and so in massive quantities, BUT still harbor that spark of genuine art within them despite a shortened writing period. By contrast, novels are difficult to get right, requiring both time and patience, not to mention a really good editor.

  13. Meredith – You are again expressing some key assumptions – the first being that the product of the NaNoWriMo exercise is intended to be published. Despite the NaNoWriMo web site clearly stating to the contrary and other writers too, you still state this …

    My 2nd cousin is quite a successful literary writer in the UK/Irish market. She constantly has issues that interfere with her sitting down to write, and sometimes has gaps of two months in between. She has used NaNoWriMo and other similar motivational tricks to get herself writing again but has never submitted any work done in these exercises until it has been reworked many many times.

    Your designation ‘true writer’ is really ‘compulsive writer’. Compulsiveness doesn’t even produce the best writers; only voluminous writers. Real writers, if such even exists, are those who produce quality on the occasion when they do write, whether regular or intermittent.

  14. I guess I’m confused about this discussion. Some people enjoy the deadline, the cooperative spirit, the ‘we can do it’ attitude and the simple idea that maybe they can actually write a book. For those people, NaNoWriMo is a good thing. Other people don’t work that way. They’re under no obligation to sign up or, even if they do sign up, write a single word.

    I look forward to NaNoWriMo each year. I’ve been known to spend the 11 months after NaNo editing and polishing (not to mention finishing because 50k words is not always a complete novel). That doesn’t mean that NaNo is worthless to me.

    The notion that anything written quickly must be bad is, I think, wrongheaded. For many writers, perfectionism is a useful excuse not to write, and giving yourself permission to write quickly results not only in actual writing, but sometimes in better writing as we’re not constrained by the need to make each word perfect.

    If someone sent me their NaNo book in December, I’d be suspicious. If someone told me they’d participated and then polished, I’d be interested.

    Rob Preece

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