Columns > Published on November 6th, 2013

Remember To Wear Pants: Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo with Your Dignity Intact

NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) can be a lot of fun. That’s why thousands of aspiring writers participate in it every November. In addition to being a great opportunity to meet new people at the write-ins and kick-off parties, it’s also a fantastic excuse to brew gallons of coffee and spend all day in your pajamas chipping away at a story.

But nothing about writing is ever entirely sunshine and daisies and lattes in your favorite café. NaNoWriMo can go wrong, as participants attest to every day throughout the month on the forum NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul. Plots shoot off in unanticipated directions, characters misbehave, and that fifty-thousand word goal begins to seem gradually less attainable.  

So, in case you find yourself up to your elbows in printed manuscript pages, with more caffeine than blood running in your veins and a bottle of cognac at your side, just bookmark this page for reference and come back to it every now and again. Without further ado, here's a checklist of questions to help you through to the other side of November alive:

When was the last time I ate or slept? And how much coffee is really "healthy"?

Very important. Remember, the average human can only go about three days without water. Even if you're just sitting at a desk, don't forget to hydrate. You'll notice about a half-dozen coffee references throughout this article, and that's no mistake. Out of nearly five-thousand workers polled in a recent survey, writers were found to be the fourth heaviest coffee drinkers of all industries included. While coffee may not be as powerful of a diuretic as it's commonly believed to be, it's still no substitute for water. To be safe, better keep it to four cups of joe a day, or twenty-eight in a week.

But, you may argue, there are kingdoms to be conquered and love triangles to plot! Who has time to craft an entire world and still cook dinner? As NaNo participant mylifeinverse observed:  

When I'm writing a story, it's so easy to get caught up in the fire of the plot and not notice the time. Usually, I try to schedule writing so that I still eat at regular intervals and don't mess up my sleep cycles, but sometimes inspiration takes precedence. 

For easy meals that take only minimal time to make, The Hungover Cookbook is an excellent resource. The whole idea is that the recipes are still doable while slightly inebriated, so they should work well for a distracted NaNo-er. 

Am I still employed? Have I showered in the past few days?

I have yet to speak with anyone who dropped a job over NaNoWriMo (despite one fellow claiming to have gotten himself into a motorcycle accident to spend more time writing). But it's one thing to be at work in body and quite another to be there in spirit. Once in a while, it's crucial to come back to Earth long enough to file that report or fill those orders, or whatever it is you do that brings home the bacon and pays the bills.

And who knows, maybe you'll find small opportunities throughout the day to break away to your masterpiece. Jessikanesis has never abruptly called in sick for the sake of her novel, but she does note, "I have also gone to the website Write or Die and used it on kamikaze mode (it's quieter) while in my cubicle for quick 5 or 10 minute word sprints, hoping nobody walked by and saw I wasn't really working."

That's not such a bad idea.

And yes, for the love of Tolkien, please keep showering.

Is it Thanksgiving yet, and is the turkey on fire?

If you're located in the U.S., the proximity of NaNoWriMo to a major holiday can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Thanksgiving often means time off from work that most bosses actually endorse. But on the flip side, family members typically expect more dialogue than a few mumbled metaphors and a cryptic reference to Kafka before you can scurry back to your writing lair. Don't break great-great-aunt Lucy's heart, even if she does smell like moth balls. The next few pages can probably wait until after the stuffing is put away. If you're the one providing the meal, that's another ball game entirely. Just set a timer or something and make sure the bird is thawed so this doesn't happen.

Am I wearing the following (at least in public): shoes, socks, undergarments, pants, a shirt?

I don't believe this requires any further elaboration.

Lastly, am I still having fun?

Keep in mind why you write in the first place. If it's becoming more stressful than fun, maybe it's time for a break. There's always next year, or next month, or next week. Inspiration strikes at all times of the year, not just November.

Photo by jing2vlz

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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