Okay, that's a paraphrase. And she also didn't address it directly to me. However, since I am a writer, a reader, and a NaNoWriMo participant a few years running, I took her words personally and as such, I thought I would devote a little sliver of my web space to addressing this screed.
Dear Ms. Miller,
You are an author. This is just a statement of fact. You not only write articles (about writing) for Salon.com, but you also have written a book. I read so in your bio. I also presume that you would like for people to read this book, that you feel it deserves to be read, and that you spent some measure of time putting it together, be it a month or six months or a few years.
Well, congratulations on doing something you love and following it to fruition. I'm sure that doesn't make you at all a narcissist, does it? I mean, only a self-absorbed prig would dare to think that readers would need something to read and that a capable writer might want to try and fulfill that need. Just as a baker might decide to take her widespread talent for baking cakes and apply it to people's love for eating cake. See, for most peddlers of wares, supply and demand is a circular process. One doesn't survive well without the other.
Let us also remember that most writers are avid readers. We read in order to immerse ourselves in the craft that we love. We read to learn and to better ourselves as writers. To become inspired. Writers read so that they might, in some way, be able to keep the legacies of their imagination's benefactors alive for generations to come through new and re-imagined works by paying homage. Filmmakers do this, songwriters do this, poets do this, musicians do this. All so they can continue to add to this tapestry of art that humanity has been weaving for thousands of years. Readers are absolutely essential to the success of a writer, but so too is reading. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it's writers (or those who aspire to be) who read more than almost everybody. But someone had to write those books in the first place.
It isn't up to you to declare that writers or anyone pursuing a passion is wasting their time. How many of us could stand to benefit from devoting scheduled time to something we've been putting off for years because we're habitual procrastinators or have been overwhelmed by life? Almost everybody. It's a shame you have deprived yourself of a similar joy, because I see none of it in your words. Only bitterness.
Or maybe it isn't that you're seeking a thrill. Maybe you feel threatened by an uprising of average people out there who have realized that it's okay to do something crazy and different for themselves once in awhile. To see if the little idea they've been mulling around for years actually has any legs. Maybe they'll start, realize they hate it and never do it again. Or maybe they'll discover that they love it. Maybe some (like me) are already writers, but look forward to the sense of community and creative abandon that every November brings. It's one month out of every year when we can throw caution to the wind and explore a new style or a new genre or something that inspires us to let our hair down a little bit and go crazy. One freaking month, and you have to shit on it. Why? Because you need a blog topic, of course.
Imagine if Stephen King or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens or Margaret Atwood or JK Rowling or (insert favorite author here) had decided to take your advice and "Not Write That Novel." Imagine if they had decided that their time would be better spent reading the works of people obviously better than them so as not to make agents and publishers, I dunno, DO THEIR JOBS. First of all, there would be far fewer things to read, but second of all, we'd be stuck reading the words of bourgeois blowhards like you.
No, not everyone who participates in this month's writing bonanza is going to turn out something worth reading. In fact, out of the thousands of completed or semi-completed manuscripts that will be plugged into the NaNoWriMo word counter at the end of the month, less than one percent will probably be readable or worth submitting to a publisher after heavy edits. But it isn't your job to judge the merit of those works, and for that I'm thankful.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to finish up with this real waste of time. I have a book to write. You may never read it, but that's okay. I don't plan to read yours either.