Okay, here’s the thing: I like NaNo. I think anything that encourages a writer, regardless of age or experience, to sit their asses down and put words on a page is a good thing, whether or not they “win” by hitting that mystical 50K word mark. I like the camaraderie, whether of the online or in-person variety. I like seeing people feeling as if they’ve accomplished something.
I’ve done NaNo in some form or another for the last six years. Some years it’s been official, as in, I’ve been registered and have the word counter, other years it’s been a more informal thing. STARS, as a matter of fact, is a NaNo book in a manner of speaking, from the standpoint that I did its first revision during NaNo three years ago. Considering I revised a 73K word MS and added more than 20K words during that month I think qualifies me as having “won” that year, even though I never formally signed up.
But there is one aspect of NaNo that troubles me immensely and where I think it goes horribly awry. Where people don’t get what it means to be a writer.
Mind you, I don’t have anything against the forums. See above re: camaraderie. Where they go wrong, however, is in providing a ripe environment for a certain kind of pretentious bullshit that makes me absolutely twitchy.**
It’s the kind of entitled pretentiousness unique to far too many unpubbed authors whereupon they think starting a thread like “Books that bring [insert genre] down” is a good idea. Where they think commenting that “Oh, Book X, definitely brings the genre down because it sucks” qualifies as a good idea. And they’ll defend their right to do so, because that’s what literary criticism is All About.
Which is not to say any individual, unpubbed or not, isn’t entitled to an opinion. For heaven’s sake, of course they are. However, criticism means not only that you have your opinion, but you’re able to defend it in a cogent manner. That you’re able to debate its merits without being reduced to childish, simplistic rhetoric. It’s being able to say, “This book didn’t work for me and this is why,” and be able to acknowledge that someone else might have a *gasp* differing opinion and that *gasp again* it might have just as much merit as yours.
I know full well that this sort of commentary isn’t exclusive to NaNo, but there’s something about this intense month of noveling—of knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of other individuals with a similar goal and they’re tending to congregate in this one place, that provides an absolute petri dish, where these opinions can fester and proliferate with abandon.
Other misconceptions at which I find myself alternately cringing and ruefully shaking my head:
**All the classics are what was considered the “good” writing of the time period.
Actually, much of what is considered classic in today’s literature classes was actually the popular literature of its time and was derided as the amateurish scribblings of hacks. Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, the Brontës—they were all hammered by the critics of their day, other writers held up as far more stellar practitioners of craft. The lesson to take from this is you just never know what’s going to wind up standing the test of time so to arrogantly state that something unequivocally brings down a genre is just asking for history to come kick you in the ass. Twice.
There’s also the widely disseminated assertion (uttered with a certain tone I call “know it all-itis”) that publishing is “easier” now.
*pauses to allow all the laughter to subside*
And no, I don’t try to disabuse them of this notion, you know why? Because they don’t want to hear it. Especially not from an already published author. The fact that I’m published just proves their point and I’m probably only saying that publishing is tough and getting tougher by the day because I don’t want the “competition.”
*pauses to allow the laughter to subside*
No, talking to them about the economic realities of traditional publishing and how vanity publishing really isn’t “being published” and self-publishing takes a massive amount of work on the author’s part beyond actually writing and how too few writers are able to objectively and effectively edit their own work, is simply an exercise in expending breath because again, it’s not anything they want to hear.***
See, that’s sort of both the beauty of NaNo and the tragedy of it. It’s such an insular environment—one where anything is possible—and by and large, that can be a great thing. However, the sort of arrogance that insularity breeds leads to a closed-mindedness that can be extremely damaging should one of these aspirants actually pursue publication.
Oh well, either they’ll learn or they’ll wind up writing for James Frey’s sweatshop.
** Which is why I tend to stay away from the forums, for the most part. But every now and again, curiosity gets the better of me. You’d think I’d know better. Bad Barb, no biscuit.
***As a totally irrelevant side note, I find it amusing that the most vocal of the critics are often the ones with the lowest word counts.