A Response From Laura Miller



I posted last year about a letter I sent to Laura Miller in response to her Salon.com op ed piece where she (in my opinion) blasted the participants of NaNoWriMo and attacked the Office of Letters and Light. (NaNoWriMo’s parent company). This is her response to me. I have yet to send one back. In other news, Salon.com has put itself up for sale.


Thanks for writing. I think in your anticipation of being slapped down, you leap to some unjustified conclusions about what I said.

Although I hoped to respond to every email I received about my NaNoWriMo piece, it turns out I just can’t scrape together the time, so I’m going to attach a comprehensive response that I hope will address your remarks, whether positive or negative. (The email I got was about half and half, by the way, and I’m not any happier about the positive ones that willfully misinterpret what I said than I am about the negative ones.)

Here is what I did NOT say:

I did NOT say that *writing a NaNoWriMo novel* is a waste of time.

I did NOT object to people writing novels, whether they do it in 30 days or more.

I did NOT say that NaNoWriMo novels are “a lot of crap.”

I did NOT say that NaNoWriMo contestants do not read.

How can the above statements possibly be true? I think if you go back and pay attention to what I actually wrote instead of what you assumed I wrote or what other people told you I wrote, you will see that it is so. (Yes, the headline for the piece is not as clear as it could be, but like most journalists, I do not determine the headlines attached to my articles. That’s up to the cover editor.)

To elaborate:

My complaint is not with anyone who writes any kind of novel. Let me repeat: I have no objection to anyone writing a novel in 30 (or more) days, any more than I object to people making scrapbooks or perfecting their gelato recipe or doing anything else that satisfies their creative impulses and it makes them happy.

My complaint is with the investment of public time, energy and money in a program that promotes novel-writing. The *apparatus* of NaNoWriMo — nonprofit status, fundraising ($300K+ this year, according to the website), paid staff, volunteers, website, press campaigns — strike me as squandered. For the same reason, I would also call it a waste for someone to solicit donations for a nonprofit organization urging more people to knit or play championship Scrabble. These are harmless and agreeable pastimes, it’s true, but do we really need to invest scarce resources in boosting them?

I DO put the event in the context of a culture where 81% of people say they plan to write a book (reported by the New York Times) yet only 57% report having read a SINGLE book for pleasure in the past year (from a study by the National Endowment for the Arts). Anecdotally, every writing teacher I know reports having several students in EVERY class they teach (including expensive university MFA programs!) who, when questioned, admit to almost never reading books for pleasure. I have met dozens of aspiring writers at literary events who blithely tell me the same thing. Of course NaNoWriMo is not to blame for this. I never said it was. However, I don’t see that NaNoWriMo is helping the situation very much, either.

We don’t have a shortage of writers. We DO have a shortage of readers. These are the facts. As gratifying as NaNoWriMo may be to individual writers, it is not meeting a need that’s in service of the greater public good. My argument is that we are better off redirecting these limited resources and this collective enthusiasm to the encouragement of reading (especially, I’d add, in creative ways that don’t instill the idea that reading a book is the intellectual equivalent of eating your spinach).

With regard to whether or not Nanowrimo is helpful to writers, in the second paragraph of the piece, I acknowledged the following:

… it fosters the habit of writing every single day, the closest thing to a universally prescribed strategy for eventually producing a book. NaNoWriMo spurs aspiring authors to conquer their inner critics and blow past blocks. Only by producing really, really bad first drafts can many writers move on to the practice that results in decent work: revision.
Furthermore, I never claimed that NaNoWriMo novels are “a lot of crap.” I’ve never read a NaNoWriMo novel, so I wouldn’t know. I was merely quoting the NaNoWriMo website, which assures contestants that they will be writing “a lot of crap.” That’s a direct quote from them, so if it offends you or strikes you as inaccurate, please take it up with them.

Let me repeat this one more time: My point is not that people shouldn’t write, only that any apparatus designed to encourage them to write is not really doing much to foster a healthy, sustainable literary culture. The world of readers and writers is like an ecosystem, and ours is getting more and more out of balance.

Ironically, in the long run, making the celebration of reading the center of our literary culture will help writers far more than programs like NaNoWriMo ever will. Even if NaNoWriMo contestants don’t expect their NaNoWriMo novel to ever get published, most of them probably dream of publication some day. Well, guess what: If we continue to lose readers at the rate we’re going, that won’t happen. There will be no more publishers because people will have ceased to buy their product, or will only buy books by 10 or 15 blockbuster authors. You might opt to publish your book yourself at your own expense, but, even then, will anyone (outside of family and friends) read it? Or will they be too busy writing their own books?

Anyone who loves novels, as I do, has to find this prospect saddening. Personally, nothing depresses me more than the possibility of a world full of good books that will never be read.

No one likes to hear this news, and the natural impulse is to lash out at the messenger. There certainly is a lot more money and applause to be had only telling people what they want to hear instead. I’ll point out that the only book the founder of NaNoWriMo has ever published is a book on how to write a novel.

Please consider the possibility that you are looking at this issue from the narrow perspective of what makes you personally feel better, right now, and not taking the bigger picture into account. Given that many people seem bound and determined to believe that I have attacked NaNoWriMo contestants no matter what I say, this is probably hopeless, but it did seem worth a try.

Tickets to Dirty Deeds II now available from Melbourne Leather Pride


Art by David Kawena

Tickets to Dirty Deeds II are now available from Melbourne Leather Pride.

“The Grand Finale to the Sex Write Off Competition for 2010. The most hotly contested erotic gay literary prize in Australia is also the just the hottest, with professional and amateur authors tested by having to write the best stories about gay male sex!”

Hares & Hyenas
63 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
7.30pm to 9pm
Friday 19 November 2010

Hope to see you all there!

An Open Letter To Laura Miller



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.


Matthew Lang

Mr. Perfect reading at Dirty Deeds 2, 19th November


It’s confirmed. I will be reading Mr. Perfect at Dirty Deeds 2: The Best of the Sex Write off Competition and Awards presentations at Hares&Hyenas on Friday the 19th of November (mark it in your dairies everybody!

The night is part of a fundraiser for Melbourne Leather Pride Festival in April, and should be a heap of fun, and it would be great to see you there.

Details are:
Dirty Deeds 2: Sex Write Off Competition Awards and Readings
Hares & Hyenas
63 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
7.30pm to 9pm
Friday 19 November 2010
Bookings through contactus@hares-hyenas.com.au

Mr. Perfect makes equal second!

Mr Perfect

For some reason I thought the publishing offer was the prize for the Sex Off Write Off Competition – but the verdict is in and apparently Mr. Perfect came in equal second. That’s a bit of money towards keeping me writing and there’s also the possibility of a reading in November. I’ll post about that when details come through. Excuse me, I’m going to go and squee now.

Mr. Perfect to be published in Banquet 2011

Mr Perfect

I recently entered the Hares & Hyenas‘ Sex Off Write Off competition, being run in conjunction with Midsumma, and have just been offered a publication opportunity for my short story entry with banQuet Press‘ 2011 Anthology banQuet 2011: A feast of new writing and art by Australian Queer Men. The Anthology is due to launch in Feb 2011 as part of Midsumma 2011. More details coming as they emerge, but it looks like I’ll have a short story and a novel out in 2011!

The Secret of Talmor Manor accepted for publication

Hurrah! My first book has been accepted for publication by MLR Press and is going through the editing process now. It should be available early 2011! Keep watching this space for more on The Secret of Talmor Manor.