But if “the ONLY thing that matters… is output,” when the focus is “quantity, not quality,” you’re not writing a novel. You’re masturbating. It’s fun, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and a lot of people could stand to do more of it—but it’s not exactly something to brag about, and in the end the only thing you’ve made is a mess.
“Write 50,000 words this month, and it’s okay if they suck” is a great idea. Calling the result a novel is asinine.
Well, if “National Harness Your Creativity By Committing to Writing The First 50,000 Words Of The First Draft of That Novel You Always Promised Yourself You’d Write” was catchier, they’d use that name.
But NaNoWriMo is catchier.
Talk to novelists. Writing a first draft is a lot about getting through it, about hacking through and discovering your story and your characters. Brilliant novels don’t happen on first draft. They happen after a whole lot of rewriting and editing, after the fact. But you can’t get to a rewrite until you’ve written the first draft!
I’m a big supporter of NaNoWriMo. I think it encourages people to think creatively and to make a big step - a bit like committing to running a marathon or climbing a mountain- that they might never do without making a public commitment. Is every NaNoWriMo novel good? No. Is every NaNoWriMo participant in it with the best of intentions or ideals? No. But the only reason to define any event (or, really, anything in human endeavor) by the very worst offenders is if you want to bash it. It’s called a strawman argument, and it’s what cleversimon is making.
I have been writing all my life. I write nonfiction for a living. I wrote fiction throughout elementary school, high school, and college. I edited a fiction magazine for a decade. And yet, though I promised myself I would one day write a novel, I NEVER PUT DOWN THE FIRST WORD UNTIL I COMMITTED TO NANOWRIMO IN 2006.
The result? I wrote a 160,000-word novel (now edited and rewritten once, really needing another editing pass and more time for me to attempt to find an agent to sell it) and am 52,000 words into a second. And yes, I plan on finishing it (or at least tacking on 50,000 words to it) in NaNoWriMo this year.
If you want to quibble with details of NaNoWriMo, go nuts. But it’s a beautiful concept that really does unlock creative power for a whole bunch of people. Why piss on that because you don’t like the name?