It's not a secret that NaNoWriMo is heavily criticized by a lot of people for several reasons. Most of these critics argue that the 50,000-words-in-30-days limit is conducive to making bad literature, filled with grammar errors, plot holes, bland characters and an overall bad experience.
Some critics also focus on the fact that NaNo forces mediocre, uninspired work. Some of them seem to be under the belief that you need Inspiration® before you sit down to write a single word and conversely writing without any kind of Inspiration®, plan or Great Message® to convey will inevitable produce crap novels.
While I disagree with both of these criticisms, I will not discuss them here. Instead, I want to present my personal and admittedly subjective and emotional case for NaNoWriMo.
Today, my region's (Mexico::South) collective word count has just surpassed one million words. Count'em: a seven-digit number in five and a half days of writing.
This number can either be humbling or a drop in the ocean, depending on your point of view. According to certain estimates, one million words is about twice the size of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" which is, by all means a huge book. On the other side, if a single book contains around 100,000 words, we've just barely created the equivalent of ten books, created by a few hundred authors.
This last comparison can be disheartening to anyone looking at the volume of a regular, personal library. With my mid-class office clerk income I can buy two books in a month and my budget suffers almost no consequence at all. During major book sales, I've seen people buying books by the cartful. Some heavy readers I know would call ten books "a regular month".
If one million words is so little, why bother doing it at all?
The answer: because those words weren't there before.
Collectively, we've managed to write ten books that did not exist. Granted, they're all dispersed among several shorter and unfinished works, but their existence is similar. They were birthed just now.
NaNoWriMo's raison d'être is to encourage people to write more. Unlike other kinds of art (music, dance, sculpture) writing can be done with very cheap and easily available materials. A six year old child already knows the mechanical aspect of writing technology and the biggest technological jump for computer-based writers is to learn the keyboard layout. In this purely mechanical aspect, writing is easy and available to a very large number of people.
The problem with writing is that, more often than not, we find excuses for not writing. Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough ideas, not enough space. Writing a book is not easy and most people won't write one in their entire lives; sometimes because those excuses are very real and sometimes because they're convenient.
It's possible, almost a guarantee, that these million words will not survive for long. Some will be abandoned by their authors and then some will be forgotten once the first draft is completed, judged as something not worth the author's time. The few that remain will almost certainly be struck out between furious comments of an internal or external editor and maybe then the survivors will be published, if lucky, in a forgotten corner of the internet, by an independent publisher or maybe even printed in a regular house, only to lie in a bookshelf for years to come.
But the authors will not return the same as before. The ones that never thought much about it will only walk out frightened at the idea of sweating and will only think of writing as another form of "hard work" for which they're not suited. Some will learn how hard it can be to write one word after another and will have a new found respect for books and their authors, editors and publishers.
A few will realize they like going through the fire and flames of writing, if only for the thrill of it. After a period of resting, they will try writing a book again. It's highly likely that the second one will be better than the first. The rest of this is history.
One million words is ten books, yes. But it's also people who find a new respect for writing and writers. One million words means lots of people who have never tried to write and now have one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand words under their belt and it's more than their entire lives of writing. It's FSM-knows how many people finding out they actually can write and will wonder what else they can do, which is the first step towards a certain kind of greatness.
One million words is a bunch of seeds. Not all will germinate, but the ones that will are going to bear amazing, incredible and probably unexpected fruit.
Just wait and see.