I'm Quitting Nanowrimo and Here's Why

This post will be a bit of a departure for me. I try to focus on books and being positive. That's why I've started my "What I like About..." series. I also work to be honest about the books I review without being cruel. But, the recent events with Nanowrimo have upset me and as a long time participant/supporter, I want to talk about why I will not be continuing to participate.


My Personal Nano-History

My profile on Nanowrimo.org tells me I started in 2010 and have written over 441,000 words with them over the years, but my history with Nanowrimo extends even further backwards than that. I also suspect that word count is lower than reality, too. The fall of 2010 would have been my first fall after graduate school. I had wanted to participate before that, but November is a bad time for a university student to embark on a writing challenge.

My earliest Nano memories were meeting in a local cafe with only a notebook and a pen, because I did not have a lap top, and struggling to write my (long buried, never to be resurrected) "How to Survive Greek Myth" book. I only managed 16,000 words. My second year brought me my first "win", but only by counting both when I hand wrote words and when I typed them up. Someone told me this counted, but in hindsight, I wonder if it's cheating. That was the only year I did that, and eventually, I got a tablet so I could actually type at the write-ins.

Over the years, I used not only the November Nanowrimos, but also both Camp Nanos and their tracker in the off-season to boost my productivity. I met and befriended many other local Nanowrimos and often celebrated the events online, even if I "lost" more than I "won" (though any words written is a win, imo).


Nanowrimo wasn't always free of controversy. Many people would criticize its emphasis on word count over quality, complain that 50,000 words wasn't a novel, etc. I often saw people complaining about unrealistic expectations or how people felt like "losers" when they didn't win. I ignored most of this because to me it was simply whining. As someone who grew up as a country music fan and a spent years practicing Taekwondo, I was used to people criticizing what they didn't understand, or wanting to burn down the entire forest over a few confusing trees.

Then recently, a moderator was accused of grooming teens in the forums and the board was accused of ignoring these allegations for years. I'm not going to discuss those things in detail. Many others have done so already with better knowledge and stronger facts than me. I had never gone into the forums nor witnessed any of this kind of behaviour in our local group. To be clear, I do believe the victims.

When the allegations surfaced, many immediately cast Nanowrimo down and vowed to never participate again. I reserved judgment. I had been an active participant for 13 years at that point and wanted to give the board a chance to respond before I made up my mind. I felt that they deserved a chance.

Why I Decided to Stop Participating

I do not believe this issue was handled properly. I now believe that allegations were buried and ignored for years. I have also read the alarming volunteer agreement that they demanded MLs (Municipal Liaisons, the volunteer backbone of the organization) sign. I was not ok with any of that, but what really made me throw in the towel and write this post is how they decided to handle the issue of minors being groomed/victimized: they are banning all minors from participating.

Yes, their answer to "minors are being victimized" was "well, ok, no more minors allowed." I'll be blunt. This horrifies me. 
I don't usually talk about this because I don't like to tie this to my writing life, but I was a member of the Canadian Army Reserves for 6.5 years. During my time in the military, the media was filled with rape/abuse allegation after allegation against some of our highest ranking leaders. As a woman in the forces, this was upsetting on many levels. The army's response was complicated, and not perfect, but there was a response. Investigations were launched, major changes were made to how the laws are handled, people were charged, soldiers were forced to train in harassment prevention, bystander proceedings, etc. Work was started and continues to be done towards fixing this issue. 

Now, imagine instead, if the answer to "women are being victimized in the army" was to ban all women from the army. Or if the response to racism in the ranks was to ban all minorities. Let that sink in.

Ok, some people might think I'm drawing disingenuous parallels. The army has more resources to combat things than Nanowrimo, blah blah. I don't care. The answer to "minors are being victimized" CANNOT be "ban all minors". I completely reject that.

What Now? Would I Ever Return to Nanowrimo?

What now is I will keep on writing and moving forward. I'll be setting my own goals and pursuing them. I will work to be supportive and kind to my fellow writers of all ages, genders, sexualities, identities. My local Nanowrimo group is evolving into something else. I'm participating in other organizations. I'm sad that Nanowrimo went this way, but I'll be fine.
As for ever going back to participating? I doubt it. Something really major would have to occur. I'm not sure what it would take. Maybe a completely new board who genuinely tries to fix things. But, I doubt that would happen.
Anyway, thank you for indulging me.


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