Letters to the Editor


Regarding The Fourth Estate, by Deck Deckert.

Dear Editor: It seemed as though I was reading the usual drivel from the NY Times in Deck Deckert's essay. Is that all he's got after "40-years of work in the media trenches" -- warmed over liberal goo with the usual bad guys?

- The media "isn't liberal": Yeah! Sure! This a laughable lie.
- The rich: Who by the way pay almost all the taxes
- The evil Christian right: Maybe Deckert and his union thugs and sodomizing friends could go to a church and throw some blood on these evil people; that would be real courage and compassion on his part.
- The poor AID's "victims": I think spending and special privileges for this politically correct crowd far exceeds the goodie take when compared to other diseases.
- Oh yeah, labor: What a joke! Union thugs that extort and murder if they don't get their way. There has to be some small businessmen in Stuart [Florida] that the labor movement can try to put out of business just for the heck of it. The author should check on that.

Does he really take time to listen to NPR on Sunday mornings? I guess that says it all.

It is to laugh.

Jack Crooks
Stuart, Florida, USA

Regarding NaNoWriMo: Now you too can be a writer!, by Alma Hromic (published on October 21, 2002). The URL to this piece was posted on a forum of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Web site. Members of that forum and participants to the NaNoWriMo contest took strong exception to Alma Hromic's opinion and wrote accordingly. A first letter was published two weeks ago.

Dear Editor: I would just like to say that Alma Hromic totally missed the point of NaNoWriMo in her article "NaNoWriMo: Now you too can be a writer!" (October 21, 2002) The project is all in good fun, and she takes deathly seriously what participants read and giggle over. It's not meant to be taken entirely seriously, you see. We are not in it specifically for writing a piece of fiction that will be published. I am sure I speak for the majority of participants when I say that we were drawn to NaNoWriMo because it sounded fun, and because many of us are genuinely interested in writing.

The idea of writing something without the usual constraints including the pressure we put on ourselves, the painstaking deliberations over whether that sentence sounds right or that paragraph is long enough, and the excuses we make up to "take a break" from the writing and get around to it again only very rarely...well, it was a NICE idea!

Many of us are aware that we are not supposed to believe that in writing a serious novel, hoping to be published, it can be complete "trash" and still get through the publisher's net. No, instead we took this as an opportunity to do what we've always wanted to do and, in many cases, have never got around to doing - actually FINISH something!

I personally have been writing since I was a child, and I know that I want to be a writer. Alma may be speaking accurately of a small minority of NaNoWriMo contestants who, like herself, misunderstood the point of NaNoWriMo, but she is not speaking of the majority of us who are a little more perceptive than that.

In any case, Alma may have missed the fact that there are several published writers participating in the contenst, some of them having written their first published works in past years for NaNoWriMo, others participating even though they've already been published (Australia's Helen Razor is one example of the latter).

In short, I think that Alma needs to take a chill pill and maybe try and locate her sense of humour, which she apparently misplaced somewhere along the line.

Patricia Farnan
Palmyra, Australia


Dear Editor: I read with interest Alma Hromic's piece on National Novel Writing Month, having followed the link there from a forum at NaNoWriMo. I was pleased to see most writers there were undisturbed by Ms Hromic's piece and seem to be carrying on in their quest to write 50,000 words by 30 November.

My question for her is, simply, if we do not write, how will we ever become writers? A manuscript must be generated somehow, and I don't think it matters whether we do it in one push over one month or spend years pulling it out of the ether (or anywhere else it happens to be hiding).

I understand Ms. Hromic's point that it often takes years of hard work to hone one's craft, but everyone's got to start somewhere, and her quick dismissal of the entire event assumes no good can come of it.

I disagree wholeheartedly. I have sat through too many creative writing workshops in which considerably energy was devoted to squashing ideas, which I find a very sad and unproductive attitude. NaNoWriMo is the antidote to that negativity. It is for those who support the act of writing. And anyone who writes at all will know the sound of the inner editor, which constantly reminds us we could do better. NaNoWriMo is also a chance to shut it up long enough to get some words on paper.

Ms. Hromic says in her essay that "[t]hese are a writer's dues - reading, writing, rejection." Well, with whatever respect is due, writing is the only thing of those three that matters. You can read all you like, but without putting words on paper, you aren't ever going to be a writer. Quality might come during writing; it may not. But without all that writing, it can never come at all.

And as for the third of Ms. Hromic's writer's dues, by rejecting in advance all of the writing that will come from the entire NaNoWriMo project this year, she's provided the third of that trilogy for all of us. So for that I thank her. I'm a real writer now.

(And I gotta go -- I'm behind on my word count!)

Barbara Coddington
Adelaide, Australia


Dear Editor: Ms. Hromic needs to get over herself. Most novelists do. Congratulations to her for meeting the standards that the publishing industry has decided make a saleable novel. She gets paid for her work and good for her. That doesn't make her a writer. It makes her a paid writer. People all over the world have been writing since they learned how to scratch a stick in the dirt. Creation is the birthright of all human beings, not just those who suffer for it or sacrifice for it. Ms. Hromic's elitist attitude supports the machine of the publishing and entertainment industry that decides what we should and should not find entertaining, what should and should not be art. She may have found fulfillment and profit in being a cog in the machine but millions of people continue to create for the joy of it, for the experience of self-expression.

NaNoWriMo does not diminish a professional writer, what self-important garbage! If Ms. Hromic cannot crawl down off of her high-horse to appreciate a little humour, then I am sorry that her quest to be a "real" novelist has sapped so much of the joy out of her life. Baty's tongue-in-cheek approach to writing -- not literature -- is exactly what everyone who ponders attempting a novel needs.

As someone who devotes hours a day trying to produce something publishable I adore Novembers because of NaNoWriMo. I can suck my friends and relatives into the world of pounding the keyboard with me. I have a deadline that I share with hundreds of other people and I'm writing for the pure joy of it, not for anyone else. And, frankly, I wish that's the way it could be the rest of the year. I love that thousands are trying out this form of self-expression and growing and learning and experiencing what it takes to create something.

So what if they call themselves novelists? There's nothing special about it, there's no qualifications needed to be a writer. Corporate endorsement has never made a real artist. Are they published when they're done? Only if they do it themselves. Will this keep editors from respecting first time novelists? Hardly, no one is trying to get published here. I don't know of but a few of the thousands of writers who are even pondering sending in their finished product. NaNoWriMo aside, people have always inundated editors with terrible writing. That's why they have junior readers. It's a hazard of the job. Most of the NaNoWriMo participants are just having fun, finding out how bloody hard 1,667 words a day (every day) really is, sharing their experiences, and breaking down those rules that say they're not good enough to try to be a real novelist.

I genuinely feel badly for any "professional" novelist who feels threatened by the fun and silliness that is NaNoWriMo. That's like a professional hockey player getting upset at the guys playing a pick-up game on the pond because they're diminishing the meaning of all his work and sacrifice. Writing isn't some sacred priviledge [sic]. That's why they teach it in grade one. It's something we all get to do. And if some of us decide to get a little anarchist and anti-establishment and produce "unapproved" novels, good for us. Someone's got to keep writing where it belongs, in the reach of everyone's grasp, before we all have get pre-approved to set pen to paper.

Having fun with the plebes, wish you were here!

Ana Collingwood
Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Dear Editor: I can appreciate that Alma Hromic was sincerely offended to read a portion of the NaNoWriMo's site which said participants could mock real authors. Her mini-biography cited a great deal of heartache on the route to become published, after all, and to seriously mock that part of her journey would be a horrid thing indeed.

She seems to forget, however, that even if someone manages to come up with fifty thousand words of a rough novel, the process of NaNoWriMo specifies that one does not edit their work until afterwards. It specifies that this is rough, that it is just getting out the story that's inside. Short of self-publication, unless one truly had a talent, their NaNoWriMo project will not make it into bookstores of any kind. I genuinely believe those who try anyway know this. Anyone can be a writer, anyone can be published in a small-time newsletter, and anyone can mock anyone else if they already had it in mind.

Since Alma Hromic's commentary sincerely lost cohesion after that point, I shall presume that her rage and anger overwhelmed her ability to view the information about NaNoWriMo as a challenge to those who hadn't had the courage to try before, as encouragement to laugh at themselves so if the goal failed or the plot tumbled into inanity they could at least know they'd tried. We all know of the rejection letters - and that they're not called 'try again' letters for a reason.

I am sorry that this author has had such a difficult time on her journey that she has forgotten what it was to even dare the attempt.

Coral Bentley
Guelph, Ontario, Canada


Dear Editor, I am writing in response to the NaNoWriMo article by Alma Hromic. She writes of her distaste for the ideas promulgated by Chris Baty.

I'm one of those people she has chosen to disdain. I am part of a writer's group. One of the writes shared the NaNoWriMo idea with us, and some of us have taken up the challenge.

I'm one of those whom Chris warned away, a complex, thoughtful, moody writer with a big agenda. I have an outline, I've done hours of research, and the quality of my work matters a hell of a lot more to me than my word count.

Why do I find the NaNoWriMo concept useful? It gave me a kick in the pride. I've written some well-received short stories in my day, but my past failures to produce a novel have been haunting me. I started my novel on November 1 with my ultimate goal of having something viable at the end. No, I shall not finish on November 30th or even January 30th. However, I have finally started a long piece of fiction that I know I can finish. Plus I am standing at my writer's group, encouraging the young writers there to gain their sea legs through the act of writing. You learn your craft by taking small steps. NaNoWriMo is a series of 50,000 small steps. It is not brain surgery, but instead, an apprenticeship.

Did the author take the time to talk to someone who finished a novel through NaNoWriMo? I think she might have learned some forebearance [sic]. Perhaps none of the 700 finished novels from last year are palatable to her tastes, but at least the writers gained experience in staying on task, finishing a project under a deadline, and telling a long story. Those are skills that can only be acquired through hard work. Who could sneer at those who have the guts to stand up, and like that overquoted Nike ad, 'Just do it'?

Taryn Eve
Okmulgee, Oklahoma, USA


Dear Editor: Having just read Ms. Hromic's "article" (i.e. rant) about NaNoWriMo, I have only one thing to say: Ms. Hromic needs to get over herself. Big time.

"A writer is someone who writes." Therefore, a novelist is someone who writes a novel. There is, of course, a distinction between being a *paid* novelist and a novelist, but that was not Ms. Hromic's point. Her elitist point of view serves nothing but her own ego.

NaNoWriMo serves a purpose: it inspires writers to write. Most of those participating have a sense of humor and do not take themselves anywhere nearly as seriously as Ms. Hromic seems to.

Sandy Adams
Boaz, Alabama, USA


To the Editor:

Please. If she is so successful then what does she care about a group of people having fun in a contest? Nothing those people are writing is taking away from the things she has accomplished. They are doing something they love to do.

The idea is to get people to write and the contest is for fun. Gees, it's not meant to produce prize winning novels, but who knows... it just might!

Her article is the silliest article I have read in a long time. She is getting awfully worked up over nothing at all. It's supposed to be FUN, it is supposed to just get people started writing, they can edit their works after the contest is over. It is to bring writers together.

If she wants to talk about reading crap, she needs to re-read the article she wrote. I am not in the contest, but I know people who are. I do write and just because I don't have anything published yet doesn't mean I can't consider myself a novelist.

Why does she think she has the right to take away something cool for these people to be involved in? No one is doing that to her. There probably are a lot of people who like her books. Let the NaNoWriMo people have their fun. I am sure she doesn't have to worry about the competition because what she writes reeks of that attitude.

Stace Kelsey
Vancouver, Washington, USA


Dear editor: I found Alma Hromic's piece on the National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) to be a perfect example of being shown something potentially wonderful and missing the point entirely. We, this year's participants in NaNoWriMo are somehow mocking her profession by daring to sit down at our keyboards and write.

This is about as far from the truth as possible.

I am a professional writer. Note that I don't capitalize that noun. I write professionally. I've written or co-written somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen books of non-fiction. Yes, non-fiction. Not the glory-filled stuff of writer dreams, not the gold standard of bookdom, but paltry, boring non-fiction. I'm certain that Ms. Hromic would not accord me a capital letter on my profession, though I make my living by writing. She certainly hasn't heard of me, nor would she consider me as anything like a peer. (But fair is fair--until I was shown a link to her article, I'd never heard of her.)

Frankly, I'm comfortable with that. I am very good at what I do. This year, I have written or co-written eight books. Seven of these have been published. In several weeks, I'll be writing my ninth non-fiction book this year, and it will also be published.

The entire point of NaNoWriMo, at least for me, is to fulfill a dream. I've always wanted to write fiction (note that I've never wanted to be a Fiction Writer), but I've rarely found the time to pursue it. When I have, I've relentlessly self-edited, usually killing the story before it got started. NaNoWriMo was an opportunity for me to shut off that editor and write freely, not worrying if what I wrote wasn't perfect the first time, not caring if I made mistakes, contradicted myself, or wrote myself into a corner that I was forced to extricate myself from messily. It was a chance at freedom, and I took it, and am taking it now.

In her essay, Ms. Hromic writes, "So you want to write? Write." I am, Ms. Hromic. I am writing. And the reason I am writing, the reason I am starting to fulfill a dream I've had for years, is because of NaNoWriMo. For you to stand on your ivory tower and immediately denigrate anything I or my fellow participants have done, are doing, or will do--sight unseen--is, at the very least dismissive and unfair. At worst, it's draconian, boorish, and unseemly.

For those of us who take NaNoWriMo as it should be taken--seriously but not too seriously--we have much to look forward to. I'm speaking, of course, of the other 11 months in the year when we take what we've written and edit it furiously, taking our imperfect, often terrible rough drafts that we gave ourselves the freedom to write, and turn them into stories we are proud to send off to editors.

Is what I am writing less a novel because I will have written the first draft in 30 days? No. I agree that it won't be a novel until I've torn it apart and rebuilt it several times, but I'd feel the same way if it had taken me 30 years to write it. If it weren't for NaNoWriMo and the many supportive people who are writing just as furiously as I, I wouldn't have anything to edit at the end.

Will my story be published? I don't know. But I think Ms. Hromic would agree that if I don't write it in the first place, publication would be impossible. And I do have a story, Ms. Hromic. As do several thousands of others all around the world who have understood that NaNoWriMo is about mocking nothing except for our own inner critics. And, now and again, mocking those who've missed the point.

Steve Honeywell
DeKalb, Illinois, USA


Dear Editor: I am deeply saddened to read such a negative view of writing from a writer. I do not contend that there are dues to be paid. I agree that, "These are a writer's dues - reading, writing, rejection. All of them need to be paid before a final acceptance." But this applies to published writing. Since when does this mean you cannot have fun and encourage others to enjoy the art?

Hromic contends that it is not possible to write a novel and then call yourself a novelist. "I'm deeply sorry to wreck this comfortable illusion, but this is self-delusional at best, a flat out lie at worst." This is what troubles me the most. It is as if her elitist views have blinded her to the fact that the simple act of writing a novel, does in fact make you a novelist.

A novelist is defined as "A writer of novels." A novel is defined as "A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters."

If I write a novel, I am by definition a novelist. Am I a published novelist? No. Not till I follow it through. But does that make my personal accomplishment the worthless activity Hromic would like me to believe? No, not if it meant something to me, not if I learned something. Hromic would like me to believe that a personal victory of this level is worthless. It is difficult to believe such hateful people exist.

How dare Hromic claim that her brand of suffering is what makes her a novelist. The definition does not say you have to suffer, receive thousands of rejection letters and be willing to die for your art to be a novelist. The only requirement is to be "a writer of novels."

NaNoWriMo encourages and supports the very same writers Hromic would rather see refused a pen. I see nothing wrong with encouragement. I see no good in denying others something in order to raise yourself to a higher level.

The short-sided view of Hromic lies in the fact that she believes should others succeed in writing, she is diminished. She claims that the purpose of NaNoWriMo is "To mock real novelists." This is the root of her problem. There is no definition of a "real novelist." There is no dictionary that says, if you suffer for your art, are tortured and bleed then you are "real."

She claims "So you want to write? Write. If you don't have it in you, that thing that drives you, the thing that needs to be said - then find another dream." But by this same logic, we should never attempt any art that we don't intend on sacrificing our lives for.

We should eat out at restaurants, and order in unless we are ready to sacrifice time and money to study the culinary arts. Children should never have "art" class because their horrid efforts mock artists such as Monet. Very simply put, her views are archaic and bull shit.

She is entitled to think what she will. I am not disputing that. But so am I. And I am not threatened by encouraging others to write. I am not threatened by the success of others. So I will continue to encourage and support those I know to write if they want to, even if they don't lose their job and have to live in a cardboard box.

And, as a writer is "one who writes." I will continue to claim myself a writer, and when I finish my NaNoWriMo novel. I will claim myself a novelist. This is a personal triumph, and I refused to let close-minded people take that from me.

Margaret Scott
Writer and Artist
Gilbert, Arizona, USA


Dear Editor: As a writer I would think that your skill in writing and the quality of your work should far extend above anything that could be produced through NaNoWriMo. The fact that you are worried that your profession is being degraded from this project is simply arrogance. Even a professional writer would have difficulty writing an exceptional novel in 30 days, it's not long enough to research a topic and develop a great story about it, and really, that isn't the point.

The point is to get people to appreciate the effort involved with writing. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is something most people aren't going to finish. It shows you just how difficult it is to write, even poorly, and how easily you can back yourself into a hole and cause great difficulties in writing. The point is that you are assuming that everyone who finishes their story will think they are a writer, and the truth is, they are. Quality might be completely lacking, but the fact that they wrote something makes them a writer. The fact that they could complete this project might propel them to try other projects, out of writing altogether.

I am an electrical engineer working on my PhD and a musician. If there was a competition for high school students to design a robot or something in 30 days, it wouldn't bother me in the least. Even if they thought they were engineers. The fact is, people would be doing something creative instead of wasting their time watching TV. I entered this project because I have started three books before and never finished them. This one I will, and when it is done, I can go back through and rewrite it and see where my problems are in writing. It's causing me to finally learn the english [sic] language better, since most people know engineers can't spell half the time.

I think you should sit down and think about how difficult it really is for someone to finish this project, how out of the entire world only 700 people finished it, and finally, step down from your high horse. If you are such a great *self-proclaimed* writer, then your work should stand for itself, and being enjoyed and accepted. If 700 people out of the billions on this earth make you feel like your profession is being made fun of, then you need some serious help at perspective, cause you are certainly missing it.

Richard Burnett
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA


Alma Hromic responds:

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on Swans about NaNoWriMo and the issues I had with it. A handful of people responded with e-mails calling me insensitive, bitter, heartless and insulting to unpublished writers.

Actually, I don't think I'm any of the above and I think my detractors missed my point.

What I was responding to is the idea that I see implicit in NaNoWriMo that producing 50,000 words is all that is required to call yourself a novelist. It is not. That suggestion, even if done as some say "tongue in cheek," is an insult to anyone who takes the craft of fiction writing seriously, or treats it as a chosen career.

Before any 50,000 words can be called a novel, these words must be well chosen, they must hold a reader's interest by concerning themselves with the fate of interesting and engaging characters, and they must contain a halfway rational plot. There are exceptions to all those points; literature is, after all, an art, not a science. But unless you are a genius, chances are that the 50,000 words you produced as part of NaNoWriMo are simply 50,000 words, not a novel. It's a question of quantity vs. quality.

That is all that I was saying.

By suggesting, however "tongue-in-cheek," that you call yourself a novelist simply because you produced 50,000 words, is as silly as claiming to be a TV producer because you taped your kids putting on a play in your living room. Writing a novel is hard work, sometimes exhausting work. Not a few of the respondents to my article have called it "scary" or "frightening," and it can certainly be that. But it remains scary, whether you do it because YOU want to do it or because everyone else is doing it. Writing a novel will take you more than a month; it will require a lot of rewriting. And if you are to succeed as a novelist, you can't depend on the artificial stimulus of a gimmick.

We appreciate and welcome your comments. Please, remember to sign your e-mails with your real name and add your city, state, country, address and phone number. If we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country. We are for real. Please be for real. Thanks. (Letters may be shortened and edited)
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Published November 18, 2002
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