In Defense of Binge Writing
or A Short Rebuttal of a Long Rant Against NaNoWriMo (warning, pdf file)
Certain writers view writing as a sacred craft. They say it requires dedication and a commitment to art and that one must strive for the perfection of prose. In short, they’ve put writing on a pedestal–hopefully out of reach of those they consider the grubby masses. Holland argues that NaNoWriMo has knocked this lofty pursuit off the pedestal and into those common grubby hands with the simple challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. He thinks this is a bad thing because it allows your average Joe to churn out dreck and be proud of it.
I would call this the Oprah Book Club Syndrome. It is true that NaNoWriMo is the writer’s version of that book club by making the process of writing a novel accessible to everyone. I don’t necessarily agree with what passes as a critical analysis by Oprah or with Chris Baty’s assertion that getting to 50,000 words involves bad writing, but both Oprah and Baty do serve an important function: to get people who don’t ordinarily read or write to do so. In this current visual age of television, movies, video games, and glossy magazines, anything that makes people stop and think instead of passively absorbing stuff deserve to be recognized.
How much to take away from such an experience is up to the individual. Some people do NaNoWriMo just for fun. Some view the challenge as another notch on their accomplishment post. Yet others will use this as a learning experience or as a step to becoming a published writer. Despite what appears to be a group love-fest for crappy writing on the NaNoWriMo forums, the discussion on those forums does not mean that everyone believes that. No amount of socializing will change the fact that writing is an intensely personal endeavor. And because creating fiction is similar to creating any other piece of art, writing is subjective. The writer cannot be ultimately judged as serious or frivolous by any one person.
Holland uses the example of Fantasy kiddies who mask their sexual frustrations by pouring out reams of obsessive world building and clichéd plots populated with Mary Sue characters as a symptom of what is wrong about NaNoWriMo. He thinks that this self-absorbed weirdness coupled with the mantra of “quantity over quality” will somehow degrade the quality of future literature. I do agree with his point that to get anything out of NaNoWriMo, the writer should have learned something from it. But this does not mean that anyone should have the right to drill this opinion into every participant.
So what if some people doing NaNoWriMo are strange? Everyone is strange to someone; normal is relative. And so what if you find the NaNoWriMo philosophy distasteful? There is no one “correct” way to write something. Chris Baty’s motivational screeds are suggestions only. Even writing 50,000 words in a month is merely a goal. How you, the participant, address the challenge is all up to personal interpretation.
Addendum: Also see the discussion here.
(Cross-posted at Writing Sya.)