December 2nd, 2011 / 4:47 pm

ToBS R1: NaNoWriMo vs. ‘What is your novel about?’

[Matchup #12 in Tournament of Bookshit]

On “What is your novel about?”…

The kneejerk hatred of “Wiyna?” has partly to do with the dread of trying to encompass an entire novel in a soundbite, along with the sense that revealing something that took a lot of effort and patience to write a novel about, something that the author may have spent a long time probing the aboutness of, something that now probably has an amount of sacredness to the author, to casually remark, “It’s about…” can be taken as an attempt to devalue/demystify the novel from the author’s point of view.

But for as loaded as the question comes at the author, it is almost a necessary question for the asker on a primary level. To be in conversation with an author who says, “I wrote a novel.” and says no more, it’s human nature to at least think the question “What’s it about?” or “What is it like?” or “Can you please give me some kind of concrete idea or image related to your novel so I can attach it to my memory of ‘you wrote a novel.'” One reason the asker may not completely appreciate the weight of the question is because many products of mainstream entertainment have obvious aboutnesses. For the sake of casual conversation, “Schindler’s List” is simply about the holocaust. “J. Edgar” is about J. Edgar Hoover. “Superman,” “Spiderman,” and “Batman,” are about Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, respectively. When your novel’s title is a bit abstract like “There Is No Year” or “Us,” the mind has a hard time nailing down even a thread of aboutness. And human beings like aboutnesses. They like people who like aboutnesses. So answering the question politely may leave an impression on the asker that this author is a nice person and maybe we can be friends now.

Negatives: novel devalued/demystified in author’s mind

Positives: potential contact/friendship as a result of being nice


On NaNoWriMo…

NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November. It is essentially a public challenge to write a novel in one month. Supporters and participants enjoy the challenge because it gets them writing a lot and for some who have never written a novel but want to, gives them a chance to attempt it. They also enjoy the community of participants and like to post wordcount updates on facebook and twitter. Naysayers and anti-participants argue it tends to churn out writing that has no real quality due to such a stringent focus on expedient writing towards an arbitrary wordcount, and that it would be better to slow down and put in the time to write a novel worth reading.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past two years and both times I quit after the first couple of days. But both pieces ended up being published as short works.

Negatives: if you do finish the challenge, what you wrote probably won’t be publishable as a novel

Positives: you wrote a lot, you gained experience of writing a lot of words about one thing, and there’s probably something salvageable in what you wrote, even if it’s just a sentence.

Darby Larson

– – –

WINNER: NaNoWriMo, because the entire Positive argument I wrote for “Wiyna?” is bunk. There is no Positive for “Wiyna?” It’s just a dumb question no one should ever ask.



  1. Trey

      oh darby I love you

  2. Mason Johnson

      I don’t understand why anyone would hate NaNoWriMo, besides the fact that it’s no fun to type.

      Sure, you create junk because of the pacing. But it’s not “write a novel THEN publish it month.” There’s no rule that, after the month, you can’t go back and edit the damn thing. Cut out the trash, rewrite the hell out of it.

      And, you know, regardless of my pacing I create a lot of junk…

  3. Mason Johnson

      Misanthropes are welcome to hate on it though.

  4. Darby Larson

      december could be Self-Publish Your Novel month, SePuYoNo

  5. deadgod

      What’s yours about?

  6. Darby Larson
  7. Mason Johnson
  8. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      This post has motivated me to ask the “Wiyna” question to as many people as possible for the rest of my life.

  9. M. Kitchell

      “What’s your novel about?”
      “It’s about 120 pages.”



  11. Matt Tyler

      people hate that question, bc, whether they like it or not, the answer is usually “Me.”

  12. MJ


  13. deadgod

      “Oh–it’s a novella.”

  14. deadgod

      What the questioners might usually be asking is ‘Am I in it?’.

  15. Guestagain

      and here I was thinking nanowrimo was an ideal sort of environment for novels not about aboutnesses

  16. Jason Jimenez

      Can we start placing bets on who will actually win this tournament? trey looks strong. 

  17. Anonymous

  18. Anonymous