Over at Salon, there's this piece by Laura Miller about how NaNoWriMo is a waste of time and energy, producing a "self-aggrandizing frenzy" of crap writing that nobody will ever want to read. She suggests that we shouldn't squander our applause on writers, but focus instead on readers. Which is all very well, but I can't help feel she's missing the point. Sure, there are some people who write 50 000 - or 150 000 - turgid words in November and immediately foist them upon every agent and publisher in the book come December 1. But frankly I expect that's a minority. I know a lot of people who have attempted NaNoWriMo. Nobody's ever asked me to read their writing. Nobody (that I know of) has submitted their novel to a publisher*. When I ask people why they attempt it, they don't say 'because I want to sell my book and be famous and make lots of money'. They say 'For the challenge. To prove I can. Because writing is fun.'
Writing and crafting a novel takes a very long time, and a lot of patience. That first, rough draft is just the tip of the literary iceberg. People know this. In fact, people who have tried NaNoWriMo probably know it better than most, because they see how much work goes into a very rough draft, and can see the miles and miles there are to go before it will be publishable.
I like to sew. I don't want to be a seamstress. I like to sing in the car. I don't want to be a musician. I'm trying out printmaking. I don't want to be a visual artist. So how come people trying their hand at creative writing get demonised for being "taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing"?
The idea of people spending a whole month of the year being creative every day, writing, thinking, imagining, crafting - I think it's awesome. And if there are a few people who take it too seriously, then don't take them too seriously. Just like how we shouldn't let uber-political correctness spoil Christmas.
Having said all that, I'm a bit of a hypocrite. Because I do NaNoWriMo in the hope that my book will eventually be published. But writing is my job. The book I'm working on at the moment will be my seventh novel, and I've come to find that doing a mental braindump of ideas and story very quickly is good for my creative process. I work better with a rough draft that I can then craft and polish into something I'm willing to show my editors. And then they help me craft and polish it even more until it's something fit for the eyes of readers. I like the pressure and friendly competition of NaNoWriMo (even though my chances of completing this year are very slim). I have no delusions about the quality of my early drafts, but as Neil Gaiman says: you can grow some beautiful things in crap**.
*except, well, me. And that was after nearly a year of thinking and revising.
**Simmone Howell pointed out that the crap needs to be turned before the beautiful stuff can grow, and she is right. But you still need the crap.