In Defense of Wrimos Everywhere: A Response to “No to NaNoWriMo”

Just a few short days ago a blogger spoke quite openly against the practicality of participating in National Novel Writing Month. The post, “No to NaNoWriMo,” kicked young, creative minds in the teeth with very strongly worded arguments against the month-long race to 50k words.

The 50k Concept

While I agree with the statement that 50k words is not a full novel, it is a pretty damn good start. Most traditional publishers today will no longer consider new authors whose books are not between 80-100k words, tending more toward 80k.

The 50k concept was not just an arbitrary number selected to make participants think they are actually writing a full novel. 50k words breaks down into a more reasonable goal for a month which also includes a major holiday; many participants are college students as well, so on top of the holiday there is usually a mid-term crunch and a prep-for-final-projects issue that consumes a chunk of time as well. 50k is simply considered a reasonable start. Several Wrimos also participate in NaNoFinMo (National Novel Finishing Month), NaNoEdMo (National Novel Editing Month), YWP (Young Writers Program), Script Frenzy, and CampWriMo. Like NaNoWriMo, these other events don’t expect writers to have a polished, publishable piece of work at the end. The idea is to spark creativity and motivate each other to get it done. There are a lot of people with great ideas (and a lot with not-so great ideas), and all they need is someone to motivate them to get it done. Not everyone is a self-starter. Some people will plan their novels to death.

Understanding Wrimos

What “No to NaNoWriMo” seemed to say.

Anyone who truly understands the writing process (and there are a great deal of Wrimos who do) knows that churning out a novel in a month does not make it complete. As Nimue Brown stated in “No to NaNoWriMo,” “at best what you have is a first draft.” I’m not so sure that the participants in NaNo are disillusioned to believe that they have anything but what author Anne Lamott calls the shitty first draft. But this isn’t National Novel Writing, Revising, and Editing Month. Wrimos come out understanding that they have only a shitty first draft.

“National Write a first draft for a very short novel Month would not be so catchy a title, but it would be a good deal more honest. That in turn would give participants more realistic expectations.” – Brown

What Wrimos understand.

Who says that “National Novel Writing Month” has to mean finishing a polished and completed novel in a month? I think this assumption takes a giant leap. Again, it feels like the author is assuming Wrimo’s are disillusioned to believe that they will have a one-month-and-done piece. Wrimos know what they are getting into, and they participate for the challenge, the community, and the creativity.

“A novel is more than a big pile of words. It is character and story, themes and style, it has structure and continuity.” – Brown

A truer statement could not have been made. I agree completely. However, the very fact that this statement is made in an article that speaks out against a creative challenge turns the true statement into an insult to all Wrimos. I have watched Wrimos agonize over these very things during the month. The character isn’t developing as s/he should; The story has more problems than praises; The continuity is all over the place; The word choice is falling apart; The style isn’t consistent. Wrimos all have faced some (or all) of these challenges during the month. Saying that stories are about these main points in such a way seems to imply that Wrimos don’t know how to handle any of this. I believe it was New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey who told me that maintaining continuity is never a goal in the first draft. That’s what revisions are for.

“If you need the driving force of a big national campaign to get you writing, maybe you aren’t as driven by the desire to write a book as you think you are.” – Brown

Ouch. Just before this, Brown mentions that outside influences interfere with writing time: family, work, or other life issues. Indeed. These life issues are very real, as I mentioned before. But way to insult the millions who participate. As a full-time college student juggling courses, three jobs, and my obligations to my family and my two toddlers, finding time to just “do it” is a challenge. NaNo is one month both my husband and myself can prepare for. He knows that when November comes around I will dedicate time to writing a novel. He understands that there will be days when my creativity keeps me away from the family for hours at a time. It’s my way to know that I have time in quarantine, just for writing. I don’t need the “campaign” to to get me writing; I need it to keep my family away so that I can actually get time to do the writing. This entire section of the article is insult after insult to Wrimos everywhere.

Published Authors

The very concept that NaNo doesn’t produce publishable books can be easily disproved. Since 2006, more than 100 Wrimos have published their novels with traditional publishing houses. While that may seem like a small number compared to the vast number that participate each year, it is important to consider the level of dedication the authors have. Some Wrimos participate for fun and nothing more. Not everyone has the end goal to get their novel published. They just want someone to encourage them to get it on the page.

Because this blog post (which I have thus far loosely called an article) is written by someone who has published works before, that gives all the statements and insults more credibility right? No. Though some of the statements made in the post were true, there appeared to be a lot of assumption and insult as well. If it were true that being published gave credibility, what happens when two published authors disagree?

My Experiences

Since 2007, I have participated in NaNo five times. This year my schedule just didn’t allow for participation time. I didn’t have my research done or my outline completed, and since my next project is a historical fantasy fiction I have a bit of research to complete before I can get started. Like many Wrimos, I don’t just sit down on November 1st and start throwing words on a page. I research, plot, and prepare in advance. This year I did not, so I did not participate.

While none of my NaNo novels have been published, I’m okay with that. I have another novel published, along with several short stories. What I learned from participating and cranking out the 50k in a month was that my storyline and sequence for my Divica series had a vast number of holes and unanswered questions. It was a learning experience for me. Those novels were more than just shitty first drafts; they were educational tools that helped me hone the series into a more clear vision of what I wanted it to be.

If you don’t like NaNoWriMo, or the concept behind it, then don’t participate. That does not give anyone a right to insult those who do participate. My father always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Disagreeing with an idea gives no one the right to be rude to those who enjoy what they do. All realities of the publishing world aside, NaNo is an experience for people who just like to write, whether for publication or not.

Wrimos don’t write for fame, fortune, or attention, but for by love of creativity and community.

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of Wrimos Everywhere: A Response to “No to NaNoWriMo”

  1. Nimue Brown says:

    Hello, firstly thank you, for a detailed and thoughtful response. It was not my intention to insult all participants in NaNoWriMo, simply to question the processes. I’ve seen in the last few days a lot of feedback from people who struggle with it, have been overwhelmed by it, depressed by it – it’s not a universally great and happy experience, and flagging up the issues matters.

    I do not believe that asking anyone to consider their motives and reasons is an insult, but at the same time, anyone who feels insulted – that really is between them and their work, and maybe that too is worth looking at. I did not intend to be rude, although I was intending to be provocative.

    The range of abusive, rude, insulting comments that have come back have, I can assure you, been far more brutal than the strongest statement in my post, so you may take some small pleasure in knowing that I have been name called, accused of all manner of unfounded things, ridiculed and insulted extensively for what I dared to say. So I appreciate your relatively measured response and it gives me an important reminder that not all NaNo folk are like the really angry haters I’ve had to deal with lately.

    It’s funny though, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” magically does not apply to your assessment of me. That’s frequently been my experience. I can be shouted down with all the rudeness a person can muster for daring to criticise NaNo, on the grounds that it is a terrible thing to be critical or have a go at or offend someone. You might want to think about that.

    • Star Davies says:

      I felt it was my position to reasonably defend Wrimos against what was said in your post, just as you likely felt it was your position to take against us. The truth is, there are always two sides to every debate. That’s what makes it a debate. Creating a post that was nothing but nasty and insulting would solve nothing, and there was no reason for it. I felt justified reasonably arguing against your points, just as you felt justified arguing for them.

      The fact that some of what you said in your article was insulting has nothing to do with “them and their work.” Wrimo is about community just as much as creativity, and the community is huge. That is why there has been such overwhelming response to your post. It’s just for fun. It seems to me that saying Wrimos should consider themselves and their work is sort of like saying that people who gather each day/week at a particular restaurant for company. Instead of understanding they go there to meet, they are questioned because the food there is bad. Sure, they probably eat while they are there, but that isn’t why they go.

      I am sorry that some people don’t know how to measure themselves. Some people seem to forget that everything they post online has their name attached to it forever. Some people seem to forget that others have feelings. While I don’t condone haters, I can understand how some people jumped on you without taking time to consider their responses appropriately. The article was insulting. You aimed ot be provacative, and you succeeded. Keep in mind as well that everyone who aims to rock the boat has to be prepared for such a reaction as well. There will always be haters who speak rashly. As I said, I don’t condone it, but I understand that it exists.

      There is nothing wrong with being critical, but there is no reason to assume things of others or insult their intelligence either. That quote does apply, especially if you are going to complain about how much hate you have sustained as a result. There are better ways to be critical than to insult more than a million people.

  2. Nimue Brown says:

    Just because you believe something to be ‘just’ fun, and believe that it has no wider social impact or implications, does not make that actually true. As for the food comparison, yes I would call out on that too, the ethics of the food we consume, how we source it – another thing that isn’t ‘just for fun’ and has massive wider implications.

    I’ve also had some brilliant conversations with people doing Nano who offered their experiences – good and bad, and who simply entered into a conversation with me. I think if I had been unequivocally offensive, that I would have had nothing but negative feedback, which was not the case. I welcome debate, and where people have bothered to go into the details, think about what I actually said, rather than responding emotionally to what they interpreted my words as meaning… it has been interesting and productive.

    It is important to recognise that there are differences between being offensive, and being offended. Had I suggested that all NaNo folk were misguided, illiterate fools (which I did not suggest and would not because I know too many people doing it) had I said that, everyone would be entitled to feel insulted. Taking offence is a choice, and not everyone made that choice. The title made it clear I wasn’t going to be pro, anyone seeing that title and coming to my blog to read, was not forced to. They made the choice to read something they thought would offend them. There is a degree of responsibility there for the outcome.

    I am entitled to an opinion. I am actually entitled to any opinion on any topic. So is anyone else. My holding an opinion does not invalidate anyone else’s opinion. No one has to agree with me. If my provocation causes offence, it may be because I have tapped into pre-existing fear or insecurity. Maybe I touched some raw nerves around motives and values. If that makes a person uneasy, that’s their issue. Everyone who could talk clearly about their writing process and relationship with Nano seemed happy to just defend and justify their position, which I think is an interesting reflection on those who have simply chosen to take offence and complain about me daring to write the piece.

    NaNo is flawed, and there is every reason to say so.

  3. Hamza Hassan says:

    Hello Ms. Star,

    I hope you are doing well. I am not sure whether or not you are the one who wrote the wonderful story “Thanksgiving Christmas,” from a recently published book for the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series. The story, however, touched my heart and soothed my soul in a very positive way. Please let me know if you are the same Star Davies who wrote the story.

    Best regards,
    Hamza Hassan
    Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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