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On National Novel Writing Month

The Importance of Community Encouragement for Writers

This month is National Novel Writing Month, during which participants work toward a goal of a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. The program is ideal for people who have long toyed with the idea of becoming a novelist, yet have been afraid or unable to make the plunge, because it provides both structure and a huge support system among participating authors to inspire and encourage writers. According to the NaNoWriMo website, an impressive 310,095 participants in 2013 started November as “mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers” but walked away as novelists. The website also lists the 250 novels written through the NaNoWriMo process that have been traditionally published, including bestsellers like Water for Elephants and The Night Circus.

Why is NaNoWriMo so important for the writing community, despite the fact that with the advent of self-publishing, it seems like nearly everyone has written a novel? As Joseph Epstein reminded in his 2002 essay, 81 percent of Americans think that they have a book in them, a story worth sharing or a tale that would entertain. And, he argues, those stories should be kept inside, since the desire to write a book stems from a need for personal significance and such books are unnecessary and unwanted.

With self-publishing services blooming and growing out of even the most unlikely places today, Americans have perhaps never needed less encouragement from writing events like NaNoWriMo to attempt to publish that novel. There are so many websites offering to walk first time authors through the process, so many writers conferences, virtual meet-ups, and services that provide professional and emotional support for new and aspiring writers.

And yet, it seems that only the most self-important people can avoid that nagging what-could-I-possibly-contribute feeling that would-be writers and even established authors feel. It’s natural to have insecurities and doubts about your own capacity to add value in today’s content-saturated world, especially if you are approaching a path/community like writing for the first time. Unfortunately, the more support and services are available for new writers, the more that others will be provoked to give voice to those common insecurities of aspiring writers. There are plenty of people who echo Epstein’s disparaging remarks, maintaining that debut novels from mechanics, out-of-work actors, teachers, and anyone else who felt they had a novel to write are unnecessary, clogging and choking the literary scene with unworthy material.

NaNoWriMo is a powerful voice telling potential authors that their stories are important, should be shared, and can add value. The message “the world needs your novel” and the encouragement from experienced authors who welcome NaNoWriMo participants and share advice hopefully counteracts the opposite message being thrown about by those who fear for the future of literature. If you have the time and drive to participate, you should. Because while you may find out that you are absolutely rubbish writer who can’t write your way out of a paper bag, you also may discover that you’ve produced something beautiful that has the ability to move someone or heighten understanding between people. As our Editor Jim Barnes said in his response to Epstein’s op-ed,

We at Independent Publisher and Jenkins Group urge independent authors and publishers to ignore Mr. Epstein's plea to ‘Keep it inside you, where it belongs’ and encourage you to keep writing, creating, and expressing yourselves. Like bluesman John Lee Hooker said, ‘It's in ’em, and it’s gotta come out.’ Write On, people, Write On.”


Lauren White graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in History and English. She is serving as Assistant Editor and Awards Account Manager at Independent Publisher. Please email her at larenee [at] with any questions and comments.