So I was listening to the Story Wonk Daily podcast this morning with Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens. (Who are always hilarious, by the way. If you’re not a regular listener, you’re missing out!) They’re in the middle of their month-long NaNoWriMo theme as they do every November. NaNoWriMo, if you don’t know, stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is simple: you pledge to write 50,000 words (the equivalent of a rough draft of a book) in one month. A great way for people who are thinking of writing a novel and haven’t otherwise found the wherewithal to sit their butts down in front of the computer to write. You get to do daily word count check-ins, gain badges to mark accomplishments, and have a participant pool of thousands cheering you on. It’s like a writer’s marathon that lasts all month long.
I’ve never gotten to do it myself, because my timing is always off. I’m usually just at the end of writing a novel — and in the low-word-count, polishing stage — and thus not ready to start something new. Also, to be honest 50,000 words a month is pretty much par for the course for me when I’m on deadline. As some people have suggested, “Every month is NaNo month for you!”
But I digress. In this podcast, Lani and Alastair were addressing the NaNoWriMo haters. Evidently some people are putting down the program, saying that people are only participating out of the “challenge” mentality and not to hone their craft. Much like someone might try to run a Marathon for fun–to say they did it–rather than take it seriously and properly train all year etc. They say they’re not “real writers” if they only write one month out of the year and that the whole thing basically is an insult to those who take their craft seriously. Oh and the amount of crap they produce, they lament, clogs the inboxes of agents and editors for months to come.
To me, it seems pretty harmless. (And I’m guessing agents and editors have crap filled inboxes every month of the year!) And if it gets people excited about books and writing–well, that’s a good thing, right? I actually spoke to a woman at my RWA meeting on Tuesday who said she had been waiting 30 years to write a book and never put one word down on paper. Now she’s about 25k into her novel, thanks to NaNoWriMo and man, you should have seen the glowing look on her face as she talked about it. She was SO HAPPY! So proud. So enthusiastic. It was as if she could barely stand still because she wanted to go home and write some more. It was awesome.
And you know what? It doesn’t hurt me a bit, as a professional writer, to have her succeed. In fact. I love the idea that there’s a new writer in the world who loves the process as much as I do. Just like I’m pretty sure the men and women who win first place in marathons wouldn’t take the time to hate on Betty Sue and her friends who walked 23 out of the 26 miles, but managed to cross the finish line all the same. I bet they’d be cheering.
In any case, to bring this topic back to theme of this blog, I think a lot of writers have the same perception of self-publishing. They lament the idea that anyone can throw up any book they spent 12 days working on and make it available for anyone to buy. They say they’re afraid of badly edited books full of typos and misspellings clogging up the online bookseller shelves, making it impossible for a “real” book to stand out.
But you know what? I don’t think that’s what they’re really afraid of. I think they’re more afraid that one of these self-published newbies might actually have a hit. A commercial book that people LOVE that New York, for whatever reason, rejected. There are so many good books out there that just didn’t have the commercial appeal or the right submission timing that, put in the hands on the right readers, will explode with popularity. And those authors who weren’t “good enough” for New York will suddenly find themselves making money hand over foot. More money, likely, then their traditionally published counterparts. I know I keep bringing up Amanda Hocking, but damn, she’s such a good poster child for this. She decided to take charge of her career. Put her rejected novels online. And now she’s a millionaire. (One NY is suddenly paying a lot of attention and money to.)
Now I’m not saying there aren’t books out there that don’t deserve to be published. I’m sure there are thousands. And I’m not saying quality isn’t important and that anyone should just throw any old book up online. But I am saying this: don’t discount a writer or try to question his or her legitimacy just because their methods are different then yours. Maybe his bestseller will be written in one month during NaNo. Maybe her rejected novel will hit the NY Times eBook list. Or maybe they’ll never write anything ever again. Who cares? It’s got nothing to do with you!
My best advice to writers–whether on the NY Times list or just starting their first NaNoWriMo. 1) If you write, you are a writer. 2) If you finish a book, you are a novelist. (And you’ve done something 99 percent of the population can’t do.) 3) Stop looking at what everyone else is doing and keep your eyes on the prize. 4) Figure out your goals and pick the best path you can to reach them–whether traditionally or by other means. And finally 5) Don’t give up! And don’t let the haters get you down!