Somehow I'd never heard of National Novel Writing Month until today. At the most basic level, it's kind of inspiring: basically a bunch of people pledge to each try to write a 50,000 word short novel during the month of November. Quantity, not quality, is the goal. Not everyone makes the word count, but along the way there are local meetups of the participants, t-shirts, discussion boards and other community support -- something writers can always use. Just in terms of all those people actually sitting down and writing -- getting past the fear of the blank page, the endless procrastination that so many of us know so well, this seems inspiring. Sure, many of the novels written during that month might be junk, but so are many first novels written over the course of ten years.
Every so often, a curmudgeonly critic will opine something along the lines of "the book is dead, people don't read anymore, it's all the fault of tv/movies/the internet." Print culture changes every century -- as do most other aspects of human culture -- and we are in the midst of a profound technological transition. Undoubtedly there were people who complained when the codex book (what we think of as a physical book: pages stitched/bound together that you turn to read two sides of each leaf) began to displace the previous form of the book, scrolls (like the papyrus scrolls of the Egyptians, or the traditional form of the Torah) (one long piece of writing surface that can only be read from one end to the other -- difficult to find a specific place in the middle). There are similar profound changes in the ways that people read now, with the increasing presence of digital texts and electronic formats for accessing those texts. But because of digital technology, many people are reading -- and, even more significantly -- producing/publishing texts every day. That's what's really exciting to me -- blogs, fan fiction, and all sorts of other venues that are something more formalized, more like publishing writing than, say, chat forums. I hope someone has written a study of the word processor's impact on writing over the past 15-20 years -- I know as a writing teacher I've seen a lot of changes in the way my students compose, and in my own writing habits.
So, who cares if November's novels might not be the best works ever? what a great boost for the participants -- and as any writer knows, getting started, and getting in the habit, can make or break a project. If only my Novembers weren't always so filled with grading and conference preparation, I'd try my own hand at it. Who knows, maybe I will someday.