The NaNoWriMo Dialogues: “When Haters Give You Lemons”

You: People are kinda mean.

Me: That is too true. I remember when I was in elementary school, this one kid used to make fun of me just because of the way I chewed, which I didn’t and don’t think was really all that weird, but it made me self-conscious about my chewing and so –

You: Hey, hey, focus up, blabbermonkey. This post is about me.

Me: Whoa, well, sorry. Who is being mean to you, little muffin?

You: Some people are really dismissive of NaNoWriMo.

Me: Some people are really dismissive of charity, health care, cats, ponies, creme brulee, gin, asparagus, Twitter, you, me, the kitchen sink. Collectively, as a whole, I think people are pretty cool. But you get some big-ass radar blobs of judgey-faced shit-snorkeling fuck-garglers, too. You have to decide if you’re going to listen to those poisonous crowds or, instead, ignore them entirely.

You: I’d like to ignore them, but it kinda harshes my mellow. It bludgeons my buzz.

Me: Then NaNoWriMo is indeed excellent training for being a writer, because nobody will respect you in the long term, either. Seriously: a career in any artistic medium can be a fine way to make money, but it is almost uniformly terrible at ensuring total respect from the world around you. I’ve been a professional writer for the last 16 years, and over half of them have been me operating in a full-time capacity. And not like, “Well, we’re eating ramen again this week,” but, you know, actual money. And just the same, I still have family members who do not approve of my choice to me a writer. I have family members who don’t even acknowledge the fact I’m a writer because, shit, I dunno. I’d probably do better in the respect department if I had chlamydia. On my face.

You: This is really not helping.

Me: Good. Welcome to reality. You need to harden the fuck up, Care Bear. You’re going to face down rejections. Editorial notes. Bad reviews. If you’re letting some NaNoWriMo critics knock you down a peg, you’re in trouble.

You: I just would very much like the respect of others.

Me: And people in Hell want Haagen-Daaz. Hey, I feel you. It pains me when people don’t dig on what I do or they use that to dismiss me in some way. Sometimes I think I’d earn more respect if I were a janitor or a sewage worker or a freelance hog inseminator. But it is what it is and at the end of the day I write for me — and, obviously, for the audience who wants to read the stories I slather onto the page.

You: All right, fine, so that’s for writing overall — but some jerks are particularly crappy about NaNoWriMo in particular. Like, they have these criticisms –

Me: Go on.

You: What are you, my therapist?

Me: I dunno, Captain Howdy, you tell me.

You: Like, there’s this one article on Salon — “Better Yet, Don’t Write That Novel.”

Me: That one’s a few years old. I’ve read it, sure. That article kinda sucks, actually.

You: Does it? Because it’s freaking me out.

Me: Why? What parts?

You: Well, I don’t want to “write a lot of crap.”

Me: Of course you don’t. Who does? If you were going to go build a chair — like, the first chair you have ever built — do you think it’d be the kind of chair you could immediately go out and sell? Ikea will buy it and call it SJNARGN and it’ll make you a million dollars? Do you think King Joffrey will sit on that motherfucker and not then ask to have your head cut off so he can kick it around like a soccer ball? No. That chair will be the ugliest goddamn chair you ever did see. It’ll probably be a safety hazard to you and everyone you love. But nobody says to the carpenter’s apprentice: “You shouldn’t build a lot of worthless chairs.” You have to build a lot of worthless chairs!

You: Worthless Chairs is the name of Scalzi’s new band.

Me: Are… you Scalzi?

You: No.

Me: Are you Rothfuss? Real or imagined Rothfuss?

You: No.

Me: … nnnokay, fine, whatever, moving on. Like I said before, you gotta write through the suck.

You: But aren’t I just committing more crap to the world? That’s what that Salon lady said. She said — hold on, lemme find it, ah, yeah, here we go:

“NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.”

Me: Oh, right, because writers are never ever readers. If you can’t see me over here, my eyes are rolling so hard they just popped out of my head and the dog ate them. She also said this:

“Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books. Even authors who achieve what probably seems like Nirvana to the average NaNoWriMo participant — publication by a major house — will, for the most part, soon learn this dispiriting truth: Hardly anyone will read their books and next to no one will buy them.”

Me: Again committing the idea that writers and readers are not the same people. Yeah, newsflash: in my experience, the Venn diagram featuring WRITERS and READERS has like, a 95.7% overlap. Moreover, I hate that bullshit about oh blah blah even if you do get published no one will ever read it so just stop now. Because what chimp-shit justification. First: she has no actual evidence that no one is reading books or even your books. Second: here, I can play that game with anything you might ever want to do: “Even if you do graduate from culinary school, you’ll never be hired by a real restaurant.” “Even if you do manage to learn accounting you’ll find that most companies won’t hire you because you smell. “Even if you do manage to learn how to sculpt or paint or write comic books or write novels or whatever you will soon learn the dispiriting truth that we all FUCKING DIE AND LIFE IS A FRUITLESS ENDEAVOR WHICH MEANS THERE’S NO FRUIT NOT EVER IT’S JUST A DEAD TREE LIKE A SKELETON’S HAND THAT WANTS TO PULL YOU INTO THE MUCK AND SMOTHER YOU IN ITS DREARY DEPRESSING MUD.”

You: I think you’re more upset about this than I am.

Me: Well, seriously, it’s just silly. Besides, it focuses on the wrong thing: publication. Like, yes, you can write to be published. You can write in the hopes of having an audience. But to get there, to connect with a publisher or to speak to an audience you still have to finish a book.

You: I just figured, hey, that article was written by a writer so, maybe I should pay attention. And feel bad about myself because, hey, another writer would know.

Me: But see, there’s another grim and ugly little secret: often writers will be the ones who criticize first. Hey, you know, I get it. I used to be kinda hard on NaNoWriMo. And I still recognize that it is one writing plan among many and it has lots of weird little “rules” and I’m not necessarily fond of the “win/lose” condition — but, you know, none of that takes anything away from me. Or my work. None of it removes the power from writing or storytelling. None of it harms the publishing industry. No, of course you shouldn’t be submitting your rough-hewn draft to publishers or agents on December 1st, and if you do that, someone should fire a howitzer at your genitals so that you may never breed. The actions of idiots should not be used to punish everyone else.

You: So, I should just keep writing.

Me: You should just keep writing. Haters gonna hate. I’ve said it before and will say it again: letting the haters occupy real estate inside your head is like asking a strange dog to shit in your kitchen. We’re hard enough on ourselves we don’t need to let other people stick us with knives.

You: When haters give you lemons… make haterade?

Me: No. Shove the lemons up the haters’ netherholes. THEN SQUEEZE THEM UNTIL LEMON JUICE FOUNTAINS OUT OF THEIR EARHOLES.

You: Whoa.

Me: Yeah.

67 comments

  • Cheers for your encouragement to writers to just keep at it. Tom Robbins posted a memorable pep talk in one of the early Nanowrimo events. Big fat excessive tears for editors referenced in the Salon article who are paid to read things they may not wish to publish. Shame on anyone arrogant enough to discourage the creative one who is courageous enough to make an effort. http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/tom-robbins

  • OOPS…. for some reason went and read that Better yet Dont write that novel thingie… … why why why did I waste my time reading that Chuck/ why why why….. well at least I dont think its derailed me from finishing my crappy novel…. really gonna file it away with the nce shiny prise and it wiill never ever see the light of fucking day…. but im haveing a great time…. oh hell no im not writing suck to finish out that statement… its hard getting but in chair every morning but im doing it….yeah

  • Waaaaah? I don’t get it. Why would people hate on writers? Why would anybody discourage anybody from writing, ever? *becomes simultaneously depressed and contemplative* *throws self off cliff* *until she is rescued by the coffee-breathing paper dragon of fiction*

    Article-writers like that Salon person make me sad. She should go write a novel, gain some perspective (or if she has already, go write another).

  • Loving the howitzer to the genitals threat for Dec 1st. I don’t really get the discouragement. Instead, I get a kind of apathetic support – I think this little hobby you have is great as long as it doesn’t interfere with anything the rest of us want to do, so expect to be interrupted a zillion times while you write so I can tell you about this cute cat video! Yeah. Thanks a lot.

    • I’ve started posting “I’m writing now!” on Facebook, then logging out and turning off my phone. So far I’m pleasantly surprised that most of my friends respect it and give me privacy. The few people who still try to interrupt, well I’ve made it a challenge to keep on writing despite interruption. My productivity is way up now, several hundred percent up!

    • That is a real head-scratcher. Isn’t ignoring the rest of the world for hours at a time so that you can indulge in entertainment sort of, you know, selfish?

      That just goes to show you that sometimes it’s good (even necessary!) to be a little selfish, which is a good nugget to remember for anyone who has to close the door in order to jam out another 2,000 words.

  • She’s just jealous. This is my first NaNoWriMo, and I’m not doing so well on the word count, but it got me working on a book I had put in a drawer with the other 14 in the drawer, and I’m re-energized and writing a lot more, so THAT is worth so much to me. Thanks NaNoWriMo, and thank you Chuck Wendig, for being a really funny inspirator!

    • Ditto on this. I’ve had a particular story in mind for years, and after a couple false starts and hours wasted agonizing over some arbitrary “respectability” I was hoping it would have, I decided to just lock my inner critic in a box and write it for NaNo. Having the deadline and the goals is a huge help for somebody like me, who hems and haws and thinks “well, I still have all the time in the world to write this, so I’ll write it when I’m a better writer.” Truth is, I’m not going to be a better writer without writing, so I may as well write the damn thing now, during this event where other people can see my progress – and where I can gain support from other writers ;P So what if my 50k words are all crap? Having written 50k words of crap is better than having imagined 100k words of brilliance.

  • I wonder if that article isn’t mostly clickbait, honestly. If hundreds of thousands of people are doing a certain activity online for a month, then publishing a highly dismissive article about that activity is going to get you a lot of attention.

  • Sometimes I think writers are critizing NaNo because they’re a little intimidated by the potential ‘competition they might have. NaNo certainly isn’t a way to have a poished manuscript at the end of 30 days but it gives you a good base. Getting critized? Yeah, I agree on grabbing your sac and dealing with it. It doesn’t get any better because you hit ‘send’ on something to go to a publisher. It’s a good step and a mountain lies before you.

  • The one that annoys me is always the dismissive “Yeah, well, your Nanowrimo is so cute, but REAL WRITERS write EVERY DAY FOREVER, not just in November, because it’s our JOB.”

    It’s like the worst sort of hipster joke–“Oh yeah? Well, I was into writing novels before it was COOL. YOU didn’t get into it the right way, so YOU don’t count.” Jesus, go work on your sonnets or something. Quick, before the masses re-discover iambic pentameter!

    If somebody wrote a brilliant novel in a crazed sprint, in any other month, we would nod seriously and say “Well, if that’s the workflow that works for you, go for it.” But if they do it in November, oh god, tattoo “AMATEUR” on their forehead.

    (ahem. Sorry, annoyed.)

    • That totally used to be my line, too. And I think it came from a place of validation — like, “Hey, you’re invalidating what I treat seriously by treating it like a game.” Except, it doesn’t invalidate anything for me. I still get to write as much or as little and as often as I’d like. And you still get to write a book. Or not write one.

      (Er, the general YOU, not the Ursula YOU.)

      I also used to think you had to actually professionally produce words in order to be a “writer” — but again, what pretentious hogshit is that? “Professional” is a fine adjective all on its own without having to be invisibly attached to the word “writer.” You write, you’re a writer. You do NaNoWriMo, you’re kicking your proto-book’s ass.

      Plus, I think to go back to the crux of the post, NaNo is a good way to actually engender more respect for writing — because, as many participants discover, this shit ISN’T just automagically easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. It’s occasionally very hard, and I’m all for anything that shatters the illusion that art is, or is supposed to be, simple.

      So. YEAH. And things. AND STUFF.

      — c.

  • How does one go about the art of reading? I may be old school, book stores are for the art of selling books, libraries are for the cultural space of reading them.

    Still the arty of reading? Does one need a special reading hat? Is walking down a row of shelves performance art?

    As for lemons, I’ll leave this here.

  • Thanks for the reality slap. I have been working on the thick skin. Now I know what to do with the lemons people give me.

  • Hey-ell to the power of yeah, Chuck! 100% agreed with every word you said!

    I also read Salon Lady’s article. Isn’t it lovely for her that she can tell every aspiring writer on the planet that NO, they absolutely SHOULDN’T scar her precious sensibilities with their fledgling books, because they’re BOUND to be dreadful at writing… AFTER she has already carved out a writing career for herself? Smacks a little bit of “Quick shut the doors – don’t let any more competition get in!” don’t you think?

    So you write fifty thousand words of shite for NaNoWriMo? So what – that’s still fifty thousand more words of anything than someone who always TALKS about writing a book but never writes a single chuffin’ word. And, since you’re not carving each shite-y word on a stone tablet with a chisel, it can be changed and buffed and polished with relative physical ease (the mental ease probably less so, but still not impossible.) You wrote fifty thousand words in thirty days, NaNoWriMo winners! Go you! You rock, no matter what!

    And the kind of people who whap their very first draft of a novel off to the nearest publisher before the ink’s even dry are gonna do that anyway, whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or National Sausage Week (yep – we actually have that here in the UK.) Maybe it is because they’re blind to their own inadequacies and for that reason will never, ever get published… or maybe it’s just because they’re new to the game, and, with time and lessons learned, will eventually get much better. Maybe even kick-ass better. Why should people like Ms. Salon get to blind-judge who goes into which category?

    Thanks again for waving the flag of ‘Just-Write’-y-Ness, Chuck!

  • I’m glad someone else has family that are as supportive as marshmallows. Well, no, I’m not glad. I’m just glad I’m not unique. I’m just so amazed at what family can do to promote your book for you if they are supportive. And a teeny bit jealous. :)

    • Yeah, know that feeling too Jemima. That one where saying you want to be a writer is the equivalent (in your family’s eyes) of saying “I want to give up ever achieving anything in my life, because daydreaming about my silly, imaginary worlds is soooo much more fun,” yeah?

      I can still remember my mum’s reaction when I gave her a free copy of an actually professionally published anthology that included one of my short stories in it; after tossing it aside she said “Yes, well, your sister had one of her nursing dissertations published a year ago – a lot of very high-up people in the universities would have read that.” I doubt she or anyone else in my family have ever read the books I gave them, even to this day – or played the soundtracks produced from the two stage musicals I wrote the lyrics to either. There’s no hostility in their attitude – it’s just total lack of interest, pure and simple.

      I learned a long time ago that there’s no point in trying to win over people who aren’t bothered about your writing; you end up trying to write the stuff you think/hope will finally impress them rather than what your heart really wants to write. People either ‘get it’ or they don’t. and if they don’t, they’re never going to.

      And look at it this way… if you ever decide to start writing erotica, at least you’re spared all those “Oh my god, what if my family reads this?” moments. ;^)

      • ROFL! That is so true. Sorry you had that experience, though. You are obviously very talented. Might I know the musicals?

        • Why thank you! *blushes to roots – still trying to get used to receving compliments.*

          It’s possible you might have heard of them if you’re anywhere near Virginia in Washington, since they were both performed there. The first was a new version of ‘Cinderella’ and the second was ‘Peter The Great’ – I was using my maiden name of Wendy Ahern back then. It was done entirely by phone, snail mail and email, as I live in the UK; Steven Rodgers, the composer, would mail me cassettes of music he’d written, and I’d respond with ‘I think this piece would be perfect for this bit in the story when this happens…’ and write appropriate lyrics for it. Cinderella was done pretty quickly, as we already had an existing script written for us and all we had to do was just write the songs for it, but for Peter The Great we basically scripted it ourselves BY writing the songs, as there was very little spoken dialogue. And yes – all with 3,000-odd miles between us again.

          Looking back on it I’m a bit amazed I even did it – even written down here it sounds like a crazy thing to do. I still have a tendency to play it down, as if it wasn’t really anything much – but that’s probably because of the previously-mentioned family disdain. If I’d told them I’d vaccuumed my house from top to bottom today, now THAT would’ve been an achievement..! What can I say, mum, I guess I’ve just got my priorities all wrong… ;^)

          Although Steven and I are still getting requests from theatre companies to use our scripts, even some ten+ years on, so I guess we must’ve done something right.

          Still writing lyrics, but working on my first novel now. WHOLE different kettle of writing fish for me! What’s your writing flavour, Jemima?

  • I’m with you on this. My dad is one of those who believes you should be a lawyer/doctor/business person in order to make money first. He gave my sister a helluva hard time for choosing to be a beautician. My sister is now a skin-care therapist with her own successful business, so booyah dad :P I know he’d give me the same shit about choosing to write if I wasn’t on another continent making it difficult for him to drop snide digs about having ‘a real job’. Being of a mildly practical bent myself (ie liking a little security), I decided to get a 9-5 until I know whether I can make a go of this writing lark. I wanted one in the same zip code as my chosen career, so I switched to editing and started from the bottom of the ladder again. The writing business, like most things people assume you do for the love of it rather than to eat, doesn’t usually make the big bucks. I know he sighs at this. Meh, I’m happy :)

    • Down here in The Oz, this statement is usually prefaced with “Take a teaspoon of concrete and-“.

      “Care Bear” is optional, but hilarious.

  • Great article, Chuck, I like these get-your-butt-out-there-and-quit-whining posts. Sometimes we need a kick to get us started.
    This is my first year of doing NaNo and I’m enjoying it a lot so far. You know what stopped me from doing it before? Fear! But now I have those lemons at the ready and if nothing else, I’m going to make a lot of lemonade. I need something to get me through this month after all, and I’m bored with coffee.

  • Junot Diaz – ya know, the guy with a Pulitzer Prize, teaches at M.I.T. – encourages people to write, believes the world will be a better, more diverse place after you tell your own story, use your own voice.

    Suck on that, Salon-writer.

    Also, is the Salon-writer confusing ‘bookstore’ with ‘library’? Because I’m pretty sure a bookstore is a place of commerce, with all those employees and barcodes and cash registers and money exchanged for goods. They may encourage you to peruse to your heart’s content, but “..cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading…” they are not.

    Salon-writer knows that no one will buy your book because Salon-writer doesn’t buy books.

  • I love this conversation u had with me. And it’s so true. The worse critics are writers. Don’t let others steal your dreams. Hang onto it with both hands.

  • I picked up this quote for my blog today, and it fits in nicely here. And these words are by Kurt Vonnegut, as real a writer as we’ve ever had:

    “If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

    I’ll take Kurt’s attitude, thank you very much.

  • Isn’t Nano just an invitation to a big party that we all wanted to go to and now someone has given away the “SECRET LOCATION” and now just anybody can come? Is that what the haters are mad about? That someone gave away the location of the writing party? (Like in front of a keyboard or with a pencil and cheap composition book)

    I go to parties to meet interesting people that I don’t already know and didn’t know would be there anyway. The same reason I read books.

    Come on in!

  • I remember reading that Salon article when it first came out and thinking the writer must have been in a sad, bitter, utterly rejected place when she wrote it if she had to throw lemons at the Great Unwashed in order to better maintain her place in the Published Hierarchy of Wonderment and Being Published. That’s still my opinion of the piece. But I hope she’s in a better place about her writing and not feeling so threatened anymore. Namaste and kumbay-fucking-ya bitches.

  • Wow Salon lady took a grumpy pill didn’t she? Lovely article thanks I’m enjoying your blog, it’s such fun and I particularly like the swearing. Which is something I do too, a lot. Did you have to take the f bomb out of the new book?

    Cheers

    MTM

  • That Salon article pissed me off well before I started doing NaNoWriMo myself, so even though it’s been around for ages, I never tire of seeing it get skewered. And I’ve always wanted to ask the author what, exactly, stopped her from founding a National Novel Reading Month if she thinks reading is such an underpromoted activity.

  • If it wasn’t for NaNo, I’d never started on writing. After two years of NaNo, I got a 100+ k words novel. Of course it isn’t a masterpiece. However, it is the first ever long story I’ve written, so now I have proof I can do it. Apparently that surprised myself more than my friends.

    Things you can learn during NaNoWriMo:
    Writing long stories without getting interrupted by your inner critic every other sentence.
    It is possible to write for 30 days in a row.
    Stories can make sense even if you have no idea what you’re doing at first.
    It is possible to just go on writing after the 30th of november to finish a project (my personal version is that I went full Rebel second year, as the tool shouldn’t decide the way. Finished in january this year).
    Coffee is needed and coffee houses are a good place to write.

    /the above list were all essential for me personally

    I still don’t call myself a writer and I’m not sure why…

  • I have a suspicion….

    What if…. “You” in all these NaNoWriMo Dialogues was not in fact a metaphor for Chuck’s audience, but a separate consciousness in his mind? What if…. Chuck is merely talking to his other personality in these posts? That would explain why he can post them so fast.

    • You’re not suggesting Chuck has some kind of severe mental disorder are you? It sounds like you are. You’ll certainly find NO EVIDENCE of that on this website, that’s for sure.
      On a more serious point, I have only one very small, petty little thing against NaNoWriMo – and that’s the ‘N’ bit. It’s ‘national’ novel writing month, the nation in question being the good ole US of A. But as I live in a different country (some people do, weird, I know), I long ago took the decision to discount and ignore it completely. ‘Cos I’m pig-headed like that.

  • After a couple of really shit days dealing with people I thought I could trust (and nothing to do with writing, BTW), this article was very timely, so thanks for a few LOL moments to brighten the early hours of this Sunday morning!

  • November 21, 2013 at 1:29 PM // Reply

    Other things people are dismissive of: cold fusion, young Earth creationism, the law of attraction, water-memory homeopathy, and the existence of the chupacabra. What exactly is the point of comparing NaNoWriMo to a list of things that should not be dismissed, other than to appeal to the slimmest pretense of reason?

    This piece is so incredibly full of logical fallacies and baseless assertions (Watch me pull a Venn diagram out of my ass!) that it actually should provide intelligent critics of NaNoWriMo comfort. When you have to defend something with irrational nonsense, it’s a good sign that there’s no valid defense for it.

  • Sound advice. This is a great site! I keep telling myself that I can’t stop reading it for all the valuable writing advice it presents, and it IS full of great advice, but really, I think I mostly keep reading for the chuckles. Good on ya.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds