Yes, we’re gearing up yet again for one of the most pathetic hoaxes of the 21st century, National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). I don’t know who started this execrable nonsense, and I don’t want to know. It has certainly caught on, though. NaNoWriMo is such a big deal, this year Stanford (which was considered at one time to be a respectable institute of higher learning) is offering an online course for people who would like to Sha-Na-Na their NoWriMo. The cost is a mere $505.

Money burning a hole in your pocket? Go for it. Or you could just send the money to me. For that price I can do you a lot more good than Stanford will.

What’s wrong with NaNoWriMo? I thought you’d never ask.

The idea is, if you sit down and write every day throughout the month of November, at the end of the month you will have written a novel. This idea is profoundly deceptive, however. What you will have written is a thick sheaf of drivel. A useless wad of cringe-inducing verbiage.

How can I be so certain of this? It’s easy. If you’ve never written a novel before, you can have no possible idea how to proceed in order to craft an effective rough draft. And if you have written novels before, I won’t need to explain it to you. You’ll already know that writing a novel takes longer than that. Sometimes a lot longer.

If you’ve never written a novel, writing 2,000 words a day is going to be a real challenge. Either you’ll just throw anything you think of onto the page (hence the Dri in the heading above, which is short for Drivel), or you’re going to crash and burn long before November 30.

I can write 2,000 words of rough draft in a single day without breaking a sweat. But I’m a pro. Also, I’m retired. And I couldn’t do it every day for 30 days in a row, because somewhere around day 11 or 12 I’m going to realize that the story needs more thought. I will then spend the next five or six days revising my plot outline. And that’s if everything is going smoothly! I once wrote a novel in only four months. It’s the worst novel I’ve ever written. I really need to find the typescript and burn it.

So right off the top, NaNoWriMo is a con. But the reality is worse than that. Of the hundred thousand people who decide to take the challenge, maybe one in fifty will produce a complete manuscript. That’s 2,000 manuscripts. After which, they will pat themselves on the back for having written a novel, and they will decide to get it published. It will be an appalling mess, but not one aspiring novelist in a hundred will know that. Having not the faintest idea what’s involved in writing a decent novel, they will proudly send their creative effort off to one literary agent after another, clogging the arteries of the publishing industry with schlock — or else they’ll figure out how to upload it directly to Amazon and clog the digital marketplace with schlock.

The world does not need any more awful fiction. Please — don’t write anything for NaNoWriMo.

Now about that Stanford course. The web page says they’ll accept up to 160 students. That’s $80,000, and you can darn well bet Stanford will keep most of it. The instructor may get a quarter of that, if she’s lucky. And for your $505 you get a total of 18 hours of online lecture, with no personal feedback from the instructor on your work.

Also, the course description says you’ll be writing 1,500 words a day, not 2,000. This just in: A 45,000-word manuscript is not marketable as a novel, unless you’re writing Middle Grade. Somebody at Stanford needs to do a little market research.

The instructor is a woman named Samina Ali. Her debut novel won a prestigious award in France, so she’s a real writer, by golly. However, she won the award in 2005, and she hasn’t written a novel since then. She hasn’t written a novel in 17 years, but she’s going to teach you how to write one in 30 days. Yeah, right.

Gee, Jim, aren’t you being too harsh? Maybe she has written several novels since then, but they haven’t been published. Well, no. If you’ve won a prestigious award for your debut novel, any halfway decent publisher will be happy to snap up your second book. If Ali had written another novel, it would have been published. She may be a terrific instructor — I have no way of judging that. But there’s a disconnect here.

Want to write a novel? Good for you! I applaud your desire — go for it! Buy a few how-to-write books. Join a critique group. Read widely in and outside of your chosen genre. Learn the ins and outs of English grammar and prose style. In only a couple of years, you may be able to produce a decent first novel. Possibly … if you’re as smart as a whip and not too full of yourself to listen to constructive criticism. No guarantees.

But in 30 days? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

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