Can we stop democratizing writing now, please?
National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo (ugh), is coming up. I don’t like to dissuade people from anything designed to encourage the practice of writing. I must. Literally millions of manuscripts circulate in the hands of literary agents and publishers at any one time, far more than they have time to assess. Quantity is killing quality. The idea that hundreds of thousands of people should try to crank out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is in no way going to teach aspiring writers to write fewer and much better books than the publishing industry now churns out or the unpublished manuscripts they choke on.
Think about how ridiculous it would seem to hold a contest to create fine art in 30 minutes—and not for amateurs and hobbyists, but as a proposed escalator to the profession. Think also about how the standards of any art form are lowered by making an assembly line of the process. I feel compelled to express negativity about NaNoWriMo precisely because I do love the art, the lofty goals and even the difficult craft of creative writing.
I’m one of those few who will probably write books whether or not we have any chance to obtain deserved recognition or financial success; I’ll just finish fewer and you may never see them. However, the sheer quantity of books of indifferent quality is making this an impossible business for most serious writers who deserve a career. They’ll simply stop. Whether they want to communicate world-changing new ideas, captivate you with a strange setting, or tell you a story you’ll never forget, most great writers today will be discouraged by the business and ultimately give up, and you the reader will be the poorer for it.
So think carefully about whether you want to be a writer, and why. What you should ask yourself isn’t “can I write some kind of novel in 30 days?” Instead, you might ask, “Can I work hard to write a novel as carefully as I can? Can I work as slowly as necessary to create an amazing book that no one else could write?” We have plenty of me-too books, and we don’t need any more. Write your only-this book, even if it demands years from you.