Thursday, November 18, 2010

I was marching down Foothill Boulevard, fuming. My only companion was our black Lab rescue dog, Miss Audrey Hepburn.

I was fuming because Salon's editor, Laura Miller, had blasted a well-established, international creative writing project known as NaNoWriMo, or National Write a Novel in a Month.

This year, more than 175,000 writers have committed to compose a complete novel, of at least 50,000 words, between Nov. 1 and midnight on Nov. 30.The project began in San Francisco in 1999 with 21 participants. Only six of them finished.

This year, NaNoWriMo is armed with a grant from Amazon.

Laura Miller's beef with NaNoWriMo is in her OpEd piece entitled, "Better yet, DON'T write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy."

Miller opines: "I am not the first person to point out that 'writing a lot of crap' doesn't sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November. And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it's clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they'll shortly receive."

Snarky? Absolutely. Hogwash? Yes!

The following published novels have been drafted during NaNoWriMo:

• Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, "Persistence of Memory" (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008).

• Gayle Brandeis, "Self Storage" (Ballantine Books, 2007).

• Jessica Burkhart, "Take the Reins" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).

• Sarah Dooley, "Livvie Owen Lived Here" (Feiwel and Friends, 2010).

• Ann Gonzalez, "Running for My Life" (WestSide Books, 2008)

• T. Greenwood, "The Hungry Season" (Kensington, 2010).

• Sara Gruen, "Flying Changes" (HarperCollins, 2005), "Water for Elephants" (Algonquin, 2007) and "Ape House" (Spiegel & Grau, 2010).

• Denise Jaden, "Losing Faith" (Simon Pulse, 2010).

• Lani Diane Rich, "Time Off for Good Behavior" (Warner Books, 2004), "Maybe Baby" (Warner Books, 2005) and "Wish You Were Here" (Warner Books, 2008).

• Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, "The Compound" (Feiwel and Friends, 2008).

More importantly, Miller forgets that NaNoWriMo is a writing exercise. The month is devoted to pure writing, with editing to follow. So what if a few novices mail their manuscripts to publishers? Gee whiz, Laura Miller. Way to rain on the parade.

My friend, Ian Randall Wilson, a published poet and fiction writer who teaches at the UCLA extension, embraces NaNoWriMo because it allows his students to abandon their internal editor. Wilson's point is that each of us has the shrill "inner voice of Laura Miller," telling us that every word is crap, a voice that murders the creative process. One of my teachers, poet Diane Di Prima, cherishes the raw, unedited results of creative exercises.

Laura Miller's position is further disproved by the WriteGirl experience. WriteGirl, the local non-profit which pairs at-risk and low-income teenaged girls with female writing mentors, emphasizes creative writing exercises, similar to that of NaNoWriMo, but of shorter duration. The result? WriteGirl proves that tapping into the creative process benefits the girls on every level. Not all will become writers, but 100% of WriteGirl's graduating seniors have entered college, many on full or partial scholarships.

Allison Deegan, WriteGirl's associate director, recently completed a doctoral study focused on alumnae participants of the program. Study participants reported that the confidence they developed in their creative writing skills translated as confidence in other areas of their lives, such as academic performance and the formation of educational goals.

Dr. Deegan said, "The WriteGirl approach, which provides a unique formula of creative freedom and significant support resources, empowers girls to believe in themselves and then to translate that belief into powerful writing and bold achievements."

Writers unite! Don't listen to the Laura Millers of the world. NaNoWriMo is a fun, month-long, writing exercise. Write on!

Tower of Tuna count, as of Tuesday: 35.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La CaƱada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at She welcomes email from other NaNoWriMo participants.

Around Town: It's time to write your novel -
Around Town: It's time to write your novel -
Around Town: It's time to write your novel - La Canada Valley Sun
Around Town: It's time to write your novel - Chicago Tribune Online

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