Popcorn and Rubber-Necking: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Spectators

Buckley and Eddie.

Dude, we should totally order a pizza and watch writers flip out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As promised, part two of my Survival Guide to NaNoWriMo. Part One, for Participants, is over here. This time, pull up a sideline chair and get the popcorn. Here’s how to make it through the month when it seems like everyone around you is obsessed with plot bunnies and word counts.

1) Breathe. Don’t get caught up in the hype/panic. That shit is contagious. Hang around enough stressed out people and you’ll feel stressed even if you’re not doing anything. Avoid this bullshit—since stress is probably half the goddamn reason you’re not doing NaNo to begin with—and remember to take a deep breath. Or get a drink. Both help.

2) Do Other Shit. Not doing NaNo? This looks like a great time to reorganize your office. Or get a head start on your holiday shopping. Or finally make some headway on the ninja-training-for-dogs program. Bonus points: you get to brag about the stuff you’re getting done to your word-count-obsessed friends.

3) But Don’t Neglect Your Writing. You don’t have to write a novel, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My favourite: using November to really nail down the outline for my next big project. Or catching up on my submissions. Continue to work on something, just to keep your hand in. Besides, it builds good habits for when the Great Time Suck, also known as the holiday season, strikes.

4) Enjoy the Show. Make some popcorn and crack open a cold one, because shit is about to go down. The autumn-chilled streets will be filled with wandering packs of word-herders, all looking for inspiration and extra words and ninja plot spackle techniques. Avoid the mobs, but enjoy the spectacle of creative madness. For extra rubber-necking points, go to the NaNo forums and eavesdrop on the freak outs.* You can even help with some, if you’ve done NaNo in the past and have the benefit of wisdom and experience. Or at least what passes for them on the internet.

5) Be Kind. Your friends are not themselves right now. It’s their Time Of The Month, if you take my meaning. They will return to the fun-loving rock-and-rollers you know and love soon, but until then, remember that they’re bat shit crazy and should only be approached with caution. And a stick. Don’t forget your Writer Poking Stick.
If you have forgotten your stick, then remember to be kind. They’re stressed and deep in the horrifying child birthing process that is required to bring a story into this world, screaming and covered in goo. Cut them a little fucking slack.
And pray for December.

*This may strike some people as voyeuristic. Sure it is. But if you don’t want to get gawked at, have your freak out somewhere that’s not a public forum.

94 thoughts on “Popcorn and Rubber-Necking: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Spectators

  1. We must not neglect the writing. In doing NaNo I would argue that one should still not neglect the writing. We spend an entire month just trying to pound out 50,000 words of a single novel. We neglect our other writing. The writing that helps us express ourselves in much needed ways. So I find this to be very good advice, whether doing NaNo or not.

    Wonderful post.

  2. Thanks! I needed this. As a (mostly) nonfiction writer, I always feel slightly inferior during November when my fiction friends (no, not fictional as in imaginary, fiction-writer friends) disappear. I’ll ask things like, “Do you think memoir counts?” and they’ll say, “Sure, writer anything, just write.” But they don’t mean it. They are too busy becoming novelists to talk to the likes of me.
    You know why? Plot, that’s why. They have plot; I just have narrative arc. Big diff.

    So – I just have to tell you that while nosing around on your blog, I found your magic question to get plot moving when it’s stuck. Brilliant! I think I’m going to start writing fiction. In fact, I did just write a short fiction piece for my blog this week. But only because I was avoiding working on my master’s thesis in Nonfiction Writing.
    Anyway, thanks for the advice, and also for the “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” question. Congrats on the FP!

    • Hey, if memoir floats your boat, then don’t let anyone else sink it. I love non-fiction as much as I love fiction, and have written both.

      Also: good luck with the thesis. I know from experience how time-consuming they are, so if you ever decide to do NaNo, you’ll be well-prepared. 😉

  3. That was funny. Thanks. I’m trying to get a Western out for Christmas and it’s tricky. I can see why everything that comes out right before xmas has problems because it’s quite a crunch to get it done in time. (video games and systems, for example) And I don’t even know where I’ll get the money to publish the book. Probably have to take it out of my”pickup truck fund” which has been shrinking ever since it started. Lol.

  4. I found this funny and insightful. As a novelist myself, I prefer to write my books at a slow but steady pace. Typically, this takes me five to six months, so while I commend those who participate in NaNo, I choose to sit it out. I have heard some very good novels got their start during NaNo, specifically, Water for Elephants. Can anyone confirm that?

    • Officially, no, but there are people who do NaNo in another way. I know some who have written a series of short stories, others who have done it for non-fiction. And then there’s the young writers who do smaller work counts. I think (though I’d have to check) that some of these variants have their own forums on the NaNo website.

      • Thank you I will keep that in mind for next time. I’ll probably do my own NaNo during a different month since I always seem to have to many competing obligations that time of year. In fact I think I might try to knock out something in the next four weeks.

  5. No 1, No 1, No1! Thank you for making me feel like less of a waste of space during NaNoWriMo. Although, as I am going to be starting my “career training,” volunteer work, AND still being full time SuperMom, I guess I should cut myself a LITTLE slack!

  6. I think we should live every month as if its NaNoWriMo. Why do it only once a year and then make a big stink out of it? I’m sure this is how compulsive gift-givers feel every time December 25th comes around.

    • I write a lot daily and did before NaNo, but I think some people find NaNo an easy way to test the waters as a daily writer. Gives them a structure they can relate to, as well as the prod of the word count update. Like gaming, maybe?
      Personally, I found it good to have other writers to talk to who knew what the hell I was bitching about. And it introduced me to my writing group of the last six years.

  7. I am not doing NaNo. After years of registering and bailing out, I admitted without shame that I do not work that way. I finished drafting a short story for an anthology and began another story. I don’t feel guilty. I feel free. I’m having fun. So there.

    Thank you for a life-affirming post. 🙂

      • this is very true. I worked with the homeless and mentally ill for many years and it seems the stigma that follows these two groups is a disaster. Not everyone asking for money on the corner is a scammer my guys had serious mental health issues and you could not tell by looking at them. I does not hurt to just say hello you may be the only person that said anything nice to the person in days. Contrary to beliefs of the common population these are good people that I would not only protect as I would anyone else but I also believe they would protect me after all they are human beings not animals. Be kind to everyone unless they give you a reason not to.

  8. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I started blogging about two weeks ago, so I automatically became part of the spectator camp upon entry. As your list pretty much sums up what I’m doing anyway, I can verify that it is entirely accurate. Good advice!

  9. This is very true. I started Nanowrimo this year as a jump start to get me writing again (I’ve neglected writing for a long time!) but aside from that, I’m just not a “get it done as fast as possible” person. I like to take my time. I also have a shittonne of other stuff I need/want to do…. like poetry, illustration, photography, youth work, volunteering, uni, work, friends, family, partner…. So, writing 50,000 in a month is just a no no. Thanks for this!

  10. Reblogged this on Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition and commented:
    While I did Script Frenzy and succeeded a few times, writing an entire novel in one of the shortest months of the year is sheer madness. Yeah, a few get published but so many can’t be good. I think it’s gotten to be a money maker for the founders and a form of self-inflicted torture for the writers.

    Count me out.

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