Thursday, November 04, 2010


by Michael 

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding this Salon piece by Laura Miller that criticizes the idea of National Novel Writing Month. People are pissed. How dare she tell people not to write, especially when she herself is a writer? One of my favorite publishing bloggers, Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times's Jacket Copy, really took her to task, attacking her post sentence by sentence. And, as usual, Carolyn is smart and incisive. Writers do need encouragement, especially since much of their time is spent on a rather solitary activity. I think the communal aspect of NaNoWriMo is fantastic--being held accountable is important. If participating means more butt-in-chair time, then I approve. For authors, I think it can be a great exercise, one through which you can learn new techniques and strategies that can be employed long after the month has passed.

Sadly, though, I think Laura made a good point that she unfortunately tied to NaNoWriMo: if you want to write, read. Reading is absolutely the first, most important step to becoming a writer. And while I have a feeling that many people participating in NaNoWriMo are readers--and probably big readers at that--there are plenty of people who aspire to write books, and even attempt to write them, that don't read. When I tell people what I do for a living, many of them tell me that they've thought of writing a book. Many of those same people also couldn't recall the last book they read or bought. Talk about awkward party conversations...

I know if you're following this blog that you're already readers, so I'm preaching to the choir. But have you met non-reader-writers in your publishing adventures? And do they make you as angry as they do Ms. Miller and me?


  1. Heck, yeah! What makes me even madder is people who do read, but not teen fiction, only that's what they claim to write. Also, people who are writing YA for market reasons. Or because it's "easier."

  2. I try to read some of everybody and anybody out there. For example I just finished reading FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen and I can say that the man has true style in his writing. I know that reading more will make me a better writer some day, I just never see myself being that amazing. I'll try though.

    As for NaNoWriMo, I say keep it alive and find a way to bring it into the schools with some kind of nation wide national creative writing contest.

  3. I knew someone writing a novel who freely admitted she almost never read. Normally that would frustrate me, but she was so charmingly self-deprecating about it -- she knew it was bad that she didn't read -- that I couldn't stay mad at her. She wasn't querying agents or trying to get published yet, so at least no one else was harmed in the process.

    Ara, I think people who write something, such as YA, because they think "it's easier" will get the wake-up call sooner rather than later.

  4. I've got to second Ara on the irritation I feel when writers claim that they write in a certain genre but don't deign to read it. As for NaNoWriMo, I've never done it, so I can't say how effective it is in churning out a solid draft. And I say "draft" purposely. What I don't believe is that you can write a novel in 30 days and then submit on day 31. Revision is where the real writing and refining comes in.

  5. "Many of those same people also couldn't recall the last book they read or bought"

    That's happened to me, that's happened to just about every writer I know. The 10/10/10 project Miller mentions is a great idea.

    I think the other really good point Miller makes is that writing is not about the author, it's about the reader. NaNoWriMo just misses that whole side of the equation. Even if it's not for publication, even if your audience is you, reading it back at some point, then it's *for* them.

    People say it's a social activity, that it's meant to be fun. In those terms, if people enjoy it, that's great. If you're looking for a way to improve your craft with a view to publication ... less so. NaNo is more like a pie eating contest than a cookery class.

    To put it another way - if any of the agents reading this saw 'I wrote this as part of NaNoWriMo' in a letter would your heart lift or sink?

  6. AS a YA writer, I can very honestly tell you that it is NOT easier. If people are saying that, they need help. I find adult fiction much easier to write than the YA stuff I'm writing. And don't worry, I read TONS of it.

    I was appalled by Ms. Miller's article and wrote a blog post basically telling her such. With that said, it had never really occurred to me that there were actually people trying to write a book that never read. I do know that reading has become null and void for many, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people out there that do read. I was more agitated by her classifying everyone in the same boat. Even some of her comments about how people should be reading, were harsh and unnecessary. Overall, her article was poorly written and not through out too much. Way too much generalizing and not enough facts to back it up. And she complained about writers complaining when that is exactly what she was doing in her article.

    At any rate, it's my love for reading that made me want to write. I have always read and I have always written. They are absolutely interchangeable. Yes, it infuriates me to think there are people trying to write books out there that are not reading books at all. It's one thing just to miss the point of trying to read up on the genre or age group you want to write for, but its another to read nothing entirely.

    And while I understand that comics and graphic novels SHOULD count, they don't in my book. There's a lot of kids reading those and nothing else. Some might argue, at least they are reading... I suppose... at least.

  7. I don't know what the big deal is about a writer who doesn't read. How does their not-reading affect YOUR life? I don't get angry, I get curious. I wonder what the writing is like. Do they not read anything at all? Is that possible? What about RSS feeds? Blogs like this? That's reading. Who's to say that reading a well written newspaper article doesn't help influence good writing? Anyway.

  8. I love reading as much as I do writing. I don't run into other writers much in person, but I do run into many people who just don't read. They might read an article online every now and then, but overall, and especially when it comes to fiction, they would rather watch the movie.

    I wonder why this is? Do they not have a sufficient imagination? I suppose they find it tedious to read for hours upon hours. I just don't get it myself. (lol, thanks for letting me vent!)

  9. Stephen King once said that he spent half of each work day on writing and the other half on reading. I love that, as it speaks to the importance of reading and its role in strengthening your own prose. The man rocks--just saying. :)

  10. I don't know anyone who doesn't read. I do live in a college town, nearly all our friends work at the University or at a supporting business so that may skew our results, but the first I heard of writers who do not read were in query-don'ts online. I'm also the only person I know (locally -- I do know a few more online where I associate with more writers) who is participating in NaNoWriMo. For me, the discipline/drive behind it is helpful. Otherwise I've been known to hop from idea to idea and not get past 10,000 words on anything.

    However, I also don't see anything wrong with the NaNoWriMo organizers not spending the non-NaNo months supporting reading. There are other sites for that. Goodreads. Library Thing. Shelfari. Even Amazon has a reading community. I actually sort of like them having the one purpose instead of trying to everything. They don't try to help you edit, they don't do cover art, or try to sell your completed projects. They don't even look for quality in the work. They don't care if you never type another word again. That's not the point. The point is that they'll support you and say you can when, occasionally, everything else in your life says you can't. And they'll say, if you don't finish this year, that's OK. We're still here and you can always try again next November.

    And for some more encouragement, Carrie Vaughn:

  11. If there was a job as "professional reader" I'd be all over it. I love to read and was a voracious reader long before I wrote anything at all. Most of the writers I know are readers, a lot of them are bookophiles like me. I think this is because writers love words, we love the way words come together. The way they sound, the way they taste.

    I'm sure that there are people who write and don't read, though I find it hard to imagine why. Why would you write a book if you don't care for books? It's a horrible way to make a living( what living? most writers will ask) and there are plenty of other ways to "express yourself".

    As to the article, I thought it was mean spirited. I don't do nano, but I think it's a great thing. If someone wants to attempt to write fifty thousand words in a month, who am I to say it isn't a good idea? I've known lots of writers who have done it and enjoyed it and that's what it's about. Did they end up with a polished novel? Of course not, but that's beside the point.

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  13. Blogger Kelly Andrews said...

    I didn't see anything wrong with Miller's post. The most inflammatory thing about it was the headline, and, if Salon works the off-line pubs do, there's a good chance she didn't even write that part.

    NaNo is a rather like the current marathon/triathlon craze -- an extreme activity where the process, community, and bragging rights are more important than the result.

  14. I do NaNo now, because it's fun for me. What it helped me do when I first started it years ago, was to learn how to keep going even on those days (and we all know they happen) when it's not much fun to put your butt in the chair and keep it there.

    As far as those writers who don't read -- seems a little like wanting to be a priest when you don't like going to church. But they have the right. Although, I firmly believe those who don't love to read won't have the drive to keep pushing when the road to publication turns out to be way more difficult than they initially thought.

  15. YA author Natalie Whipple is doing a NaNoReaMo for people who aren't going to write a novel this month but want to participate in the madness. The goal is to read three books a week. I'm trying, but I find my stacked up New Yorkers and other lit zines keep screaming at me. I'm not sure if short literary fiction counts.

    Statistics tell us many more people think they can write novels than actually read them, so I think this is a problem--at least in clogging up the slush pile with amateurish writing. A lot of people seem to model their books on video games or episodes of Law and Order.

    If everybody who's writing novels would read them, we'd all have a better shot.

  16. "I firmly believe those who don't love to read won't have the drive to keep pushing"

    It's not so much that, it's that if you don't read, on the commercial side you don't understand the market, you don't understand the competition; on the artistic side you don't see the gaps and possibilities and cliches.

    So many people I know who want to write but don't read say things like 'there's no book like this' and then describe their book where a tough NYPD female cop investigates crimes ... involving vampires. Something like that, where you don't even have to read much, you just have to go into Borders and look at some covers.

    The very best tip for someone with a novel in them is: 'OK, there are already books like the one you're trying to write. No, seriously, there are. Go and find a dozen of them, read them, see who publishes them and who else reads them. Then work out why you need to write yours'.

    There's all the difference between self expression and wanting to be published. One is not better than the other, self expression is a vital part of life - but NaNo's a lot better at catering for the former than helping the latter.

  17. The last three "aspiring" writers I've met, within the last month, no less, admitted to not being big readers. I was like "Oh yeah? You're only as good a writer as what you read." It's like that old quotient, garbage in/garbage out. In this case it's nothing in/nothing out, I'm afraid. They were not impressed by my old standby quotes.

  18. They don't make me angry. Everyone has the right to pursue whatever waste of time they so desire. And who knows! Perhaps for one of those NaNoWriMos it's the first step to writing a best seller.

    I think it's a great way for writers to feel "connected" to a community, a great way to feel "part" of something on a big scale. Do I participate? No. Will I ever? I highly doubt it. But, I also don't think there's anything wrong with it.

    Is chilling on facebook or twitter for a couple hours a waste of time? NaNoWriMos are networking with others and building a huge support system. When writing is such a solitary task, the social aspect of NaNoWriMo seems really nice!!

    That's all I have to say!

  19. I just found your blog from your website, and loved your post. I totally agree. I've been a reader my whole life. How does one know what a good book is if they don't read? Good grief.

    I am participating in nanowrimo for the first time this year and I've really enjoyed it. I think it's a great way to practice the discipline of keeping your behind in the chair.

    Happy writing!

  20. As you might know, I call myself a reading wh*&$, I have a gazillion books on my nightstand, and magazines strewn across my coffee table. When I meet writers or bloggers who claim they don't read, I am SHOCKED and stunned. I simply shake my head and move on.

    (Stephen King in his "On Writing" - one of my top ten reads - says the same. If you want to write? Read, read, read, read. And now, so does MIchael B. :-) )

  21. NaNoWriMo is a great idea for people who need the push. With the influx of unemployed Americans, I wonder how many more people will try this year? Will there be a rise in violent books? Depressing? I wonder what trends will form.

    How many vampire novels can we get?

    I would have never dreamed of writing, if I never loved to read. There are times in life, when I was down, that I never could have breathed. But with a book, behind closed doors, I see everything so well. The movies never feel like they are directed well enough; their stories are predictable in such short, flash fiction.

    Reading is a must for any writer. I learn more from reading than anything else.

  22. Stephen King said it best, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” 'nuff said.

  23. I think it's kind of funny when people get mad at what other people are doing when it really has no bearing on them.

    People who don't read want to write - who cares? They'll learn soon enough they're at a terrible disadvantage.

    People want to write a genre they don't read? Yes... and? Can't someone love to read fantasy and then craft their own novel that is fantasy with a love story and call it romance? Where's the problem? How does it hurt others if they do so?

    I'd rather save my fighting for something that actually affects me.

  24. The only thing I wish Miller had added: writers need to read critically. I'm always shocked, not only at people who say they are writing a novel and don't read, but also by those who say they read but don't seem to be doing so actively. I've always believed, if you want to write well, you have to read like a writer. Say, English class for the rest of your life.

  25. I hadn't read a fiction book in years, then decided to particpate in Nano just so I could say I wrote a novel.

    Now I read fiction all the time, I spend tons of money buying books, and I read waaaaay too many agent blogs. So, Nano turned me into someone who loves books. Goody.

  26. I've met plenty of non-reading writers, even ones who have successful writing careers. Blows my mind, but whatever. Doesn't seem to have any correlation whatsoever with NaNo.

    Me? I read.

  27. Not really important,but I found this right after i finished writing an essay on how people don't read as much anymore. Coincidence much?

    Anyway. I am a first time NaNoWriMo participant, and an avid reader. As in, right now i have at least five different books within arms reach, anywhere from 10-20 books on my floor, under my bed, in my drawers, IN my bed, ect, ect. This isn't counting the 200-300 books i have in my bookshelves.
    I love to read. Any genre, as long as it interests me from the very beginning i will sit down and read it from start to finish.

    Probably because of this, from an early age i have been a good writer. Not great, but decent.
    Only recently have i started writing short stories and the occasional novel. I honestly don't think my writing would be half as good as it is if i didn't read as much as i do.

    NaNoWriMo has been such an inspiration to me. I never would have sat down and written as much as i have in these last few weeks without the push NaNoWriMo has given me.


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