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Laura Miller is Kyle’s Mom

November 4, 2010

I wanted to take a little break from posting about my own personal WriMo experience to bring up this article by Laura Miller of salon.com (thanks to my friend Summer for posting a link to this,  by the way). Miller thinks that people who participate in NaNoWriMo are illiterate attention whores engaged in a self-indulgent and pointless exercise.  She wants all of us to stop writing and start reading (because apparently it’s OUR fault that the majority of people would rather watch TV than pick up a book). According to Miller, the writer’s market is already flooded with bad writing and there are “more than enough novels” out there.

On the LA Times blog, one can find an eloquent and mature rebuttal to Miller’s insulting tirade. I appreciate many of the points made in this article, but since I don’t work for a newspaper and I don’t have to be professional OR mature, I thought I’d write a rebuttal of my own.

Miller’s article is riddled with assumptions about the people who participate in NaNoWriMo. Interestingly, although there are tens of thousands of us, apparently we all have the same habits and motivations. Now, I realize that the author of an op-ed piece is free to make some generalizations, but if I were a co-founder of salon.com like Miller is, I think I would want to avoid appearing bitter and misinformed if I possibly could.

Assumption Number One: People who participate in NaNoWriMo do not read books themselves.

Says who? Says Laura Miller, who has apparently met EVERY NaNoWriMo participant and quizzed them about their reading habits. The sad truth is, people in general do not read as much as they used to these days (I am also guilty of this), but this trend really has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo, and it’s preposterous to call out thousands of would-be novelists in this way, as if our participation in this event is at the core of the not-reading trend. I would argue that NaNoWriMo probably forces its participants to read MORE, not less, even if the majority of that reading is in the form of research for their novels.

To me, Miller’s argument smacks of sour grapes. She’s bitter because she’s a reviewer, and if no one is reading, that makes her obsolete.  She does try to impress upon her readers how important and laudable reading is, and I agree with that, but she also seems to imply that the solution to the not-reading problem is for writers to STOP WRITING. Right, that makes perfect sense. Stop producing books, and people will definitely be encouraged to go out and buy the ones that already exist that they weren’t buying before. Miller also makes a point of mentioning the fact that she herself does not write fiction. She reads and analyzes and writes ABOUT writing. I’ve often heard the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but personally I would amend that to say, “Those who can’t do, become critics.”

Assumption Number Two: NaNoWriMo writers are seeking attention and praise.

I truly wonder what Miller was seeking when she wrote this incendiary article. Could it possibly have been…attention? Posting an article like this in the early days of November when WriMo is in full swing is the equivalent of going to a church on Sunday and pissing in the holy water font in front of all the parishioners. Seriously, Miller might as well have posted a video of herself naked, jumping up and down and screaming “LOOK AT ME!”

Well, I am looking at Laura, and I don’t particularly like what I see. She comes off as fatalistic and, let’s face it, kind of crazy when she says that there are “more than enough novels” already, so why bother writing more? Oh, sure, and why bother making music, painting portraits, or breathing in and out for that matter? She completely ignores the fact that for many writers (myself included), NaNoWriMo is NOT about receiving attention from our peers or from publishers. It’s about practicing our craft, overcoming the voices that tell us that we suck and should stop writing (sounds familiar, eh, Laura?), and challenging ourselves. Laura Miller is apparently the type of person who would tell a young child who aspired to scale Mt. Everest one day, “Oh, don’t bother challenging yourself, Susie. It’s been done before.”

Not only do I NOT expect anyone to read my NaNoWriMo draft, I am terrified at the thought of someone getting a glimpse of it, even by accident. I would NEVER submit it to a publisher without heavy editing, because I am not an idiot. I know there are a lot of idiots out there, and some of them are NaNoWriMO participants. But condemning the entire event just because a few people submitted their draft of “Swamp Thing and Jane Eyre Go to Vegas,” is absurd and moronic. Furthermore, Miller would have us weep for all the poor editors and publishers out there who have to slog through all the post-NaNoWriMo crud. I’m sorry, but these are the people who have been underpaying and rejecting me for years now. I don’t really feel bad for them because they have to read some lousy drafts. In point of fact, it is actually an editor’s JOB to read submissions, regardless of their quality.

Assumption Number Three: NaNoWriMo is pointless.

Ok, I admit, I sometimes feel the same way. My drafts from previous years of participation sit on my desktop, unread, unedited, and unloved. But you know what, I set a goal for myself, a bloody difficult goal, and I achieved it. The happy accidents that occur while I’m working on a WriMo novel remind me why I enjoy writing and why I want to continue to pursue it. When the month of November is over, hopefully I will have succeeded in writing another 5o,ooo words, and I’ll feel empowered and inspired to write more material.

Miller also asserts that “writers will keep pounding on their keyboards whether we support them or not.” This is mostly true, but does that mean that we SHOULDN’T support writers just because we don’t have to? She tells her readers that novels will be written with or without NaNoWriMo, which is also true. However, for amateur writers who have trouble working up the courage to just sit down and WRITE, WriMo can be a great release, a free pass to be crappy and awful but get the writing DONE.

So, after completely missing the point of NaNoWriMo, insulting its participants, and implying that writers are basically nothing less than the scum of the earth, Miller exhorts us all to celebrate readers, because they are “the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built.” I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that a culture must be built on the foundation of those who CONSUME it rather than those who create it. In reality, the bedrock of literary culture is writers AND readers, as well as all the critics, analysts, essayists, publishers, and editors out there.

Isn’t it funny, though, how Miller wants us to extol the particular group of which she happens to be a vocal member? Those people who write books get all the attention, and she’s pouting because she and her book club have yet to have a month entirely dedicated to THEM. Therefore, in her honor, I would like to designate December as National Laura Miller is Better Than You Month, or, if you prefer an acronym, NaLauMillBetThaYouMo. And what a month it will be! We can all celebrate by not trying to challenge ourselves and not making any new creative works, and by making offerings of bricks and broken glass to Laura Miller: offerings which she richly deserves.

An edit: I am not implying that anyone should actually chuck bricks or broken glass at Laura Miller. That would be a waste of bricks and broken glass.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 1:43 pm

    I was reading her article yesterday and found it just as misinformed and, dare I say, delusional as you did. I agree with you entirely. Although I am participating in NaNoWriMo I think I will give NaLauMillBetThaYouMo a miss though…:o)

    Good luck with your writing.
    JJ

  2. thejaggedman permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:20 pm

    I quit reading after the line “Posting an article like this in the early days of November when WriMo is in full swing is the equivalent of going to a church on Sunday and pissing in the holy water font in front of all the parishioners. ” I am not offended by this but the mental image made me mentally giggle then audibly, well snort. Now that the after shocks of snickerdome ( I just made that word up) have stopped I will continue to read the rest of the post. I wish you well in your quest of 50,000 words this month and keep writing on. Peace.

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