Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Salon v. National Novel Writing Month

Laura Miller of Salon wrote a criticism National Novel Writing Month.

(Intrusive exposition: National Novel Writing Month is when tens of thousands of would-be authors plow through thousands of words a day in an attempt to create the first draft of a novel.)

Miller wrote that writers should not be celebrated with events such as NaNoWriMo. After all, we will always have too many writers. What we lack, however, are readers.

Miller writes:

So I’m not worried about all the books that won’t get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on. Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they’re always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it’s the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species. They don’t make a big stink about how underappreciated they are; like Tinkerbell or any other disbelieved-in fairy, they just fade away.

Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let’s face, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.

To be clear, Miller does not disparage all authors or even all unpublished authors. She insults authors who
a. Do not revise their material after writing their rushed first draft.
b. Do not read, just write.
c. Lack anything useful to say.

These are not new criticisms. Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have to write,” and Hemingway (anecdotally) claimed, “The first draft of everything is pretty much (expletive deleted.)”

Overall, I agree with Miller, but her detractors also make some worthwhile points.

Serai1 replies:

While you’re at it, why don’t you write a column on what a huge waste of time it is to collect stamps? Or crochet doilies? Or bone up on football stats? How about making birdhouses; THERE’S a(n expletive deleted) waste of time for you. And let’s not forget scrapbooking. Damn, think of the millions of man hours (or woman hours) wasted on pasting ribbons and gewgaws and pictures in cutesy books. It’s disgusting!

Why is it that the ONLY hobby that invariably attracts snotty people with their sneering and condescension is writing? No other hobby gets this kind of acid (expletive deleted) attitude dumped on it.

Metasailor says:

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say, “The world has too many bad novels.” So? What’s far sadder is, there are too few people trying new things that really stretch their minds.

Softdog notes Miller’s hypocrisy, as she is a writer:

Yes, the reading public has lost their sense of propriety. Instead of, say, buying your book and dutifully consuming it and respecting your wit, they spend some of their time writing for themselves. For an entire month!

How self-centered. Unlike you, who is getting paid to write about yourself and your opinions. You aren’t a narcissist at all, because people are supposed to read you.

There’s more bile in the comments — some thoughtful, some not.

So, as to avoid overloading on vitriol, here’s a funny video of books falling down.

-Jason Lea,



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