This year, the NaNoWriMo haterade has been more delightful than the past few years, much to my overall joy. I’d thought we’d all moved on to “Kindle will ruin the publishing industry, so don’t even bother submitting to agents/editors, kid!” It’s good to see that the classics still exist. (But, to take a quick break from kicking my feet and giggle-snorting)…
Here’s a link to my blog post from five years ago, (old, old post) which was brought on by various amateur (at the time, some may have successfully sold novels and/or short stories since their days of bitterness, in which case hooray for them!) writers talking about their terror that NaNoWriMo was going to produce too much competition for them, thus preventing them from being published.
(Some parts of that post make me cringe a little, but hey.)
As of last year, the number of participants was about 250,000 and the number of “winning” novels was about 36,000. But 36k is really only the the number of files that had 50,000 words in them that got uploaded to the website, irrespective of quality or actual novel contents. Yeah, that’s a big number, but judging from the people who show up every year, it still consists of a lot of people who heard about this and thought it might be fun, many of whom are teenagers. Most of the people I talk to don’t actually have any publication goals, and are just doing it for the hell of it.
There are two dueling misconceptions at play, I think. The first is the idea that everyone has a novel in them — which N did not start by a long-shot. The second is the idea that putting your time in as a “writer” means anything.
As to the first, long before N was anywhere near as large a thing as it is this year (or last year, or the year before, or five years ago when I wrote that post), I heard people saying that they would write a novel if they only had time. I find ten people who are typing up novels that sound terrible far preferable to one person droning on about what they would write.
As to the second, yes! Working hard for years is how you build up any skills, especially the skills necessary to later create art. But it doesn’t entitle you to anything. If I read two books and I like one more than the other, the amount of time that the two authors spent on their books is meaningless. There will always be someone who shows up with far less experience and does better.
I mean, I have a long and storied history of failing at novels, but I sold the first serious attempt I ever made at a short story to Talebones. I’m certain that there were people who sent stories to Talebones throughout its run and never managed to sell to Patrick. I’m certain that there were people who had been writing short stories since before I’d even learned how to type who hadn’t been able to sell to Patrick. It didn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter. When I read slush at Shimmer and I get the occasional cover letter that says, “I’ve been writing short stories since 1987” or whatever, my response is never “Oh! This person is DUE, I better buy this story.”
Someone who has been writing for fewer years, who spent less time on their project, and who may have even participated in NaNoWriMo could write a book that gets chosen over yours for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with how many years they did or didn’t spend writing it.
Also, who the hell has time to police who does or doesn’t try to write a novel?