Are NaNoWriMo and similar writing competitions useful to writers?
July is JulNoWriMo - July Novel Writing Month - an unofficial offshoot of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, an online competition to write 50,000 words in a month. Other variations include ScriptFrenzy, a competition to write a playscript in a month, a comic writer's competition and a longer term competition over three months with a much higher word count. Is this useful to writers or a distraction?
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Forces you to write at least SOMETHING.
The problem for many writers is a lack of inspiration or motivation to start writing. Once you have started, you get into the frame of mind for writing and find you want to continue. The sense of compulsion that NaNo offers, however false, is enough motivation for someone with writer's block to start writing.
Not everyone finds compulsion a good motivation. Some people find it puts them off, because they feel they are being told what to do, or even feel too stressed by the hurry to write 50,000 words that they can't write anything at all
The prize is a proof copy of your novel.
The prize for successfully writing 50,000 words in a month is a free proof copy of your novel (or any novel, it doesn't have to be your NaNo) provided by CreateSpace, as well as registration on the CreateSpace site, which publishes your work and puts it on Amazon. Not only is it satisfying and good to morale for writers to have a physical copy of their book in their hands, it is useful for a new writer who doesn't know how to self-publish.
While it is nice to have the free book, the actual CreateSpace deal has a reputation as a bit of a scam. It charges you for each copy made, it doesn't advertise the books at all, so they do not sell, the international postage is so expensive that it is pointless for someone not in the USA.
brings writers together
Being part of a writer's group or online community is useful for writers. Some writers find it most inspiring to write in a group of people. Writers can compare and proofread each others' work and give each other ideas. New writers can get tips from more experienced writers. NaNo has a huge following and a very busy forum, along with Livejournal groups.
Competition always helps
While the benefits and results are questionable, it's almost impossible to argue that these aren't useful to writers.
Because all people are writers.
Yes, on one hand, you're risking the praise for low quality.
On one hand, you're risking the slippery slope to the literature equivalent of Youtube.
But on the other hand, you're motivating the desire to write.
...and not just to write.
"To finish writing something."
The more important question to ask is whether we would forget literature quality in light of the popularity of these competitions.
To that I say, we've already lost it!
We've already become a generation of lazy consumers.
Our flawed education has turned most of us into non-critical thinking readers.
The web has already popularized the meme of tl;dr.
Advertising has gone viral instead of informative.
None of these was contributed or will be made worsened simply by having competitions like NaNoWriMo.
If anything, such competition are the slippery slope to getting us back to reading.
Such competitions may be the few bright spots we have to getting back to a community of literature apprentices appreciative of quality beyond the lowest form of jokes/blogs and Mary Sues.
a good novel can't be rushed
NaNo encourages you to write absolutely anything, no matter how badly written or nonsensical, as long as it is both 50,000 words and a novel. This is not conducive to good work.
most serious NaNo writers spend months afterwards going over and editing what they write so much that it no longer resembles the original - 'NaNoEdMo' is actually an unofficial competition in December
good writing isn't necessarily over 50,000 words long
Many people prize the ability to summarise information in short, simple, honest terminology and see a book that is too long or waffling as a bad thing. A haiku is an ancient and highly respected form of poetry that is only 17 syllables long but can capture the essence of highly complicated concepts.
Some people need help to learn to write longer pieces, though. For instance, people who do not describe their characters in enough detail, or who write in an immature way, or who want to write a book but can't write enough to put in one. The minimum 50,000 word limit is a good incentive for these people to write more.
requires a computer
Many writers still prefer write by hand, as they either can't medically type for that long or they prefer to stick with what they've always done. While some people have completed NaNoWriMo by hand, it requires counting every individual word and there are 50,000 of them...
it is difficult to get something published this day and age when it isn't typed up, especially if you want to self-publish it online, and NaNo gives you the motivation to write it on a computer when you wouldn't normally
sprints are unhealthy
Many NaNo participants keep up with word counts by 'sprinting', or staying up night and day to finish their novel, often eating junk food and drinking caffeine to keep them awake. It is not conducive to health or sanity.
Many writers write best under these conditions anyway. Sanity has never been a prerequisite to good writing - look at H P Lovecraft
What do you think?