Once again, I realize this topic might have thematically corresponded better with another week: next week. On Tuesday, November 1st, writers from around the country and world will start novels that they pledge to finish by November 30th. For this is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where the theory (false, in my opinion) that everyone has at least one good novel in them is tested out.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days; clearly, quantity is valued over quality. Writers are invited to write-ins at local libraries and bookstores, and commiserate and give each other pep talks on the online forums. Your worth as a writer is measured by your word count. If you meet the arbitrary goal of 50,000 words (a novel typically has more like 100,000+ words), you “win.”

I could not learn to do this in a month

Do you hear some skepticism in my tone? Seeing how November is fast approaching and that I am taking a novel-writing class, I considered signing up for NaNoWriMo. Why not? It could be a good external source of accountability, in addition to my classmates. Still, something bothers me about it. Mostly it’s the idea that all you need to do to write a novel is write a shit-ton in one month (granted, the NaNo site reminds writers that revision is necessary after the fact). Most famous writers agree that writing a novel instead requires you to write every day for, oh, a decade or two. Sure, writing a novel might not take all 3,650 days but you need to practice writing for that long to be able to write a good novel. I do not expect to pick up glassblowing tools tomorrow and be Dale Chihuly by December, but this is the sort of attitude that NaNoWriMo reinforces for amateur writers.

But not until last night did I consider another problem of how NaNoWriMo approaches the novel. Last night was the seventh class of my novel-writing course. We were workshopping a woman’s historical novel, and for the first time in the class nothing positive was being said. The woman didn’t seem bothered by this–she was completely ready to throw it all out and begin again. Our teacher asked how much she writes on average per week. The woman said, as an example, that she wrote 30 pages in 2 days last week. For a second, I felt a pang of jealousy and guilt–why can’t I write that much at once? Why don’t I write that much? But our teacher immediately said, That’s too much.

Our teacher’s point was that the woman had an attitude that none of her writing mattered, that she could and would delete it as easily as she wrote it. The energy you put into a piece of writing is the same energy the reader feels when reading it. Thus, we didn’t think her writing mattered either.

So what does that mean for all the would-be NaNoWriters? There are plenty of good reasons to be involved: to connect with other people, to challenge yourself, to try something new, to be inspired, perhaps to hold yourself accountable to a goal you’ve always wanted to achieve. As long as you’re realistic about these reasons and expectations, I imagine it would be a lot of fun. Just put in the energy you want to get out.