An Open Letter To Laura Miller

NaNoWrimo

NaNoWriMo

So Laura Miller wrote an op-ed piece complaining about NaNoWriMo and how it is symptomatic of a drive towards writing and not reading, and how she has trouble with that. She complains that people are more interested in writing than reading (citing the sales of ‘how to write’ books outstripping those of fiction books) and how she had anecdotal evidence of writers who were ‘too busy to read’. She also stated that agents and publishers were bracing for the influx of un-revised, poor quality novels to their slush piles, and bemoaned those writers who do not understand the meaning of the word ‘revision’.

To someone who uses NaNoWriMo to push my way through book drafts and is happy to sit here and revise before submission (and after submission), I found Laura’s column a little offensive, and ill informed. She appears to separate literary lovers into two groups ‘readers’ and ‘writers’ and never the twain shall meet. I love my NaNoWriMo friends. We are writers, and we are readers, and well… I wrote her a letter. And I post it here so you can agree – or disagree with me as you see fit.

~*~

Dear Laura,

I was deeply disappointed to read your opinion piece on NaNoWriMo in Salon Magazine – well, on Salon Magazine’s website at least. Admittedly your article seemed geared more towards a frustration over a lack of readers than a surplus of writers (and of course, the aptly named National Novel Rejection Month that follows November each year), I feel that you are ranting out of ignorance and frankly, it’s not very appealing, nor does it make me wish to read anything you may have penned, quite the opposite in fact.

I am a writer who has participated in NaNoWriMo for the last three years. I am also a soon-to-be author who has had a NaNoWriMo novel accepted for publication and gone through a year of edits and revisions (both personally and with an editor) to do so. I am also a reader. I’ve bought about three ‘how to’ publish books, and found about one and a half of them useful. I don’t think I could tell you the number of fiction books I’ve read in my lifetime, or the number I’ve bought because I honestly don’t know. I read books. I buy books to read and enjoy spending time in the fictional worlds of others. Most of my friends to as well, and the ones who I have met through NaNoWriMo read more than the ones I have met through other channels. I am part of a very active NaNoWriMo group in Melbourne, Australia, and our discussions in November range from plotting to characters to theatre sports and computer games to authors we read and books we enjoy and recommend. We are the people who debate which ebook reader is best and whether or not an ebook is better or worse than a traditional paper book (currently the paper books are winning on functionality and ease of use, but the ebook reader is winning on weight).

NaNoWriMo is what you make of it, and I have made it a tool to push myself to write a draft of something I hope to continue, revise and use later. Collectively, my circle of friends have made it a celebration of all things book related. Our frequent gatherings and sense of inclusion have also introduced others to the word of writing, reading and books. Mothers bring their children along, and my ex came for the BBQ last year and stayed for the awesome. Three weeks in a man who had never written anything longer than a few sentences since leaving high school and read nothing more text heavy than a comic or a web forum picked up a laptop and started writing ‘because he felt like it’. He came back this year and, you know, maybe he’ll never pick up a full novel, but he might at least consider it now, or perhaps not consider a paragraph of text as ‘too dense to read’ anymore.

The joy of reading has perhaps been nudged aside by the thrills of instant gratification and visual media such as film and video games. If we want to change that, we should be finding ways to embrace the positive aspects of community and the celebration of the written word that NaNoWriMo gives us. The more I write, the more I want to read, and the more I enjoy being able to justify my reading time with ‘well, it’s research to see what other people do, right?’. The writers I know – those ‘self-aggrandising’ people you mock so heartily – they are your readers. Or potential readers. They are also friends, fellow lovers of the written word and people who just want to hang out with cool writing types (and how many times can you say ‘cool writing types’ in a sentence and not be laughed at?). We are writers. We are readers. Our badges say ‘I write book’ and ‘I read book’, and in the case of one girl I know ‘I write erotic fiction about people I see on trains’, but I’m almost certain that’s meant to be a joke.

I know you may not see it in the lofty realm of detachment where you’re sitting, but NaNoWriMo does a lot more than encourage people to ‘write crap’. It encourages them to celebrate books, and reading. People argue over other peoples’ synopses, read over novel excerpts and that behaviour is one we must encourage if we are to remind people how wonderful books are, and throwing that all away because of NaNoReMo or writers who don’t read (incidentally, did you confirm they were NaNoWriMo participants before you lumped us all into the same category?), seems to be throwing out the baby the bathwater.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a word quota to finish before I can go back to my favourite Pratchett novel.

Sincerely

Matthew Lang

Comments

comments

3 comments

    • Eleanor on 15 November, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Writing is a form of expression. People write because they want to express themselves through the written word. Many writers are also avid readers. Many non-writers are also avid readers.

    Personally I can’t write a novel to save myself. Writing my thesis is a hard enough challenge for me. I can however, happily sit for several days at a time with a good book. Recently when I moved house, people were complaining about how much stuff I had. What they didn’t realise was that the majority of those boxes were books. This doesn’t include the books I had to toss because of weather damage.

    I’ve been reading since a young age. My sister would be in front of the tv or on the computer and I would be curled up on my bed with a book. There is a stack next to my current bed of books I need to get through. Yes, a movie is great entertainment for 2 hours but after that there’s nothing. A good book lasts for days.

    So long as there are people out there writing, there will be people reading.

  1. How many Nanoers novels would hit slushpiles compared to the ones that wouldn’t? Very few, I’d imagine. Most of us get the point of NaNoWriMo.

    The letter was beautifully written. If I was you, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a response, but if you get one let us know!

  2. Thank you Peter,

    I did actually get a response, but I haven’t replied to it yet. I’ll post it up soon. It’s a blanket response though, so many of the points I have raised remain are not addressed.

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