I heard a criticism this morning saying NaNoWriMo is ‘Amateur Hour.’
I’ve heard plenty of complaints about the event, but I admit to being very uncomfortable hearing this particular criticism.
The second half of the criticism was that NaNoWriMo doesn’t ‘teach anything.’ That it’s a mashing of keys with no lessons about writing discipline to carry over for the other eleven months of the year.
To start, I’d like to respond with some context.
amateur (French amateur “lover of”, from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, “lover”)
one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
Source: Miriam Webster
I know. I know. I know what the phrase ‘Amateur Hour’ means. I also know it’s condescending and it’s exclusive. It’s referring to that nasty secondary definition:
one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science
Source: Miriam Webster
But the first kind of amateur, the lover, is exactly the kind that NaNoWriMo seeks out.
This is the person who maybe never thought they could, or should, write the story idea they have. The person who doesn’t start because the blank page is so intimidating. Who thinks, because they dare not say aloud, “what if people don’t like what I wrote, and what if I’m not good enough, and what if my grammar is bad? What if they find out I’m a fraud?”
I think NaNoWriMo is a kick in the seat for these people. A ‘don’t worry about it, just write, all the rest comes later.’ The event tells these people, “it’s good to try.” It says the most powerful sentence I can think of: “don’t be afraid.”
Plenty of people fall on their face and don’t finish. Plenty of people throw their epub file online and maybe even ask for money for an unedited first draft (I read one once, it was horrible). Plenty of people say, “Whew! What fun, can’t wait to work on it again next November!”
But each of these people put aside their fears, and did it!
This doesn’t seem like the type of thing to be upset about. To deride, to dismiss.
True, some of these people will not have the discipline to work on their manuscript year-round. I’m one of them. I have my excuses, which are worthless in the face of being told I need more discipline. I don’t deny that NaNoWriMo doesn’t teach discipline, because that’s not what its purpose is. It doesn’t teach you anything unless, in writing for a whole month, it finally dawns on you that this thing – writing – is something you love!
So maybe only a small percentage of people who work on a NaNoWriMo project take it further. That’s probably a similar success rate of any mass movement. The one person who figures it out, falls in love, and then follows through is worth it all.
based on the fact that it doesn’t hold participants’ hands for the rest of the year and make sure they sit down and work on their story every day. No one who has advised me on writing has ever forced me to my desk and stood back to ensure I get in a worthwhile amount of work each day.
I think I would even argue that, by encouraging participants to meet daily quotas, it does actually make some impression, perhaps subconscious, of how consistency is the key to succeeding. I don’t think anyone leaves NaNoWriMo thinking that writing will get done if they don’t sit down and make time for it.
NaNoWriMo even has the ‘What Next? Months’ to give people a poke in the right direction. To tell them that the real work begins when the first draft ends.
There’s also the Young Writers Program which, if you’re tossing the month of frenzy, goes out with the bath water. Take away the enthusiasm of NaNoWriMo and you lose the bulk of donations for the nonprofit work it powers. I don’t think anyone can argue the value of encouraging young people to discover the worlds they can unlock through creative writing. Get ’em while they’re young, amiright?
And that’s sort of the point. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t start. And, for many people of all ages, NaNoWriMo is the right place, the right time, and the right atmosphere in which to start.
Now, for me, it’s not a start anymore. I’ve been participating, in various ways, since 2003. I’m not a ‘newbie’ anymore, at least not for NaNo (we’ve been friends long enough, I can call it NaNo).
It’s my New Year. The time for resolutions.
This story, which I have been working on for 12 years, is going to get done. Because I struggle with the discipline to write everyday, I resolve to keep at it. I resolve to finish the re-write. I resolve to try, again, to be at that keyboard every day. Because I want this enough to put forth the effort.
Yep. I’m an amateur. Proud of it. I absolutely do it for love. I do it because this story is bigger than me, and I can’t keep it inside or I’ll burst at the seams. It swirls inside and gives me churning headaches. Because I know it’s a great story, and I just want it out there.
But, if I don’t sit down and work on it every day? That’s my fault. That’s on me. Not on NaNoWriMo.