But He Wants to Be a Paperback Writer

We are smack-dab in the middle of another No-Shave November and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s a special time.

I usually forget about No-Shave November until right around this time each year, when men start to seem fuzzier than usual and it’s not because my glasses are smudged. I typically don’t notice NaNoWriMo until around November 29 each year, either. I always think, “Hmm. I should write a book,” but then I remember that I don’t have any ideas, I lack even the motivation to create an account on the NaNoWriMo website, and writing is haaaaaaard. So I move on and forget about it for the next 365 days.

NaNoWriMo, for the cool kids out there, is a challenge designed to motivate people to write a novel in a month. It’s not a long month — November only hath 30 days, if you’ll recall that dumb rhyme. The good news is, it’s not a long novel, either — the goal is 50,000 words which is apparently the approximate length of “The Great Gatsby”

F. Scott, you slacker.

F. Scott, you slacker.

How to NaNoWriMo

Step #1: Set up an account on the website and name your book. If that’s too scary, call it “Untitled” or something. Add a description and/or blurb. If that’s too scary, stare at the screen and hope that those fields aren’t required when you push the “next” button.

Step #2. Write. Write until you can’t write any more. Count how many words you’ve written. It was only 481, you pansy. Keep writing. You have 49,519 words to go and you need to write a minimum of 1,666 words per day.

Step #3. Update your progress online as the month goes on. Earn little badges as you pass each milestone. Meet up with people near you who are participating and write awkwardly next to them. Feel like you’re really getting somewhere. You’re not. You have 45,000 words to go and you will feel every single one of them.

Step #4. At the end of the month, check your word count and win… another little badge, I think. There’s a “winner!” t-shirt you can buy. Oh, and also you’ve written a book.

For some reason, I caught this NaNoWriMo right in time. Not only that, I had a thing in my brain that I’ve been wanting to write. It really seemed like the stars were aligning! But here’s the thing about stars: they might be aligning, but it’s important to remember that they are also giant flaming balls of gas and they will burn you. I know, because I’m being burned by the NaNoWriMo star right now.

How many times can I write NaNoWriMo in one post? I bet it's a lot. Let's see!

How many times can I write NaNoWriMo in one post? I bet it’s a lot. Let’s see!

The first problem I’m running into is that I can’t talk about what I’m writing. Like, physically.

I can’t get the words to come out of my mouth or my pen or my keyboard. I can say “I am writing,” and I can say “a book”, but if this was Sesame Street and Elmo was trying to get me to say all those sounds in that order, I couldn’t do it. The closest I get is saying, “Hey, you know books?” and the person I’m talking to goes, “…Yeah?” and I go, “I’m — YOU KNOW WHAT? NEVER MIND! WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT A DOLPHIN? I THOUGHT THIS WAS A HIGH DESERT CLIMATE! THAT’S NO PLACE FOR A DOLPHIN!” and then I run away crying, still shouting about dolphins.

Reasons I Can’t Talk About It

1. That phrase I can’t say sounds pretty pretentious. Say you were writing a book. Tell someone what you’re doing out loud. It felt snooty, didn’t it?

2. It is pretty pretentious. No one asked me to write this thing that I’m writing. No one wants it, and yet I’ve decided to put it into the world like I know what’s best.

3. I don’t know what happens next. I mean, I know what happens in December (I edit what I’ve written heavily or burn it so no one ever sees my shame), but I don’t know what happens after that. Maybe it never sees the light of day. If I go around telling people about it, I’m dooming myself to a million conversations where someone says, “Say, weren’t you writing a thing? Whatever happened to that?” and I have to yell about dolphins until they leave me alone.

I only know so many facts about dolphins.

I only know so many facts about dolphins.

4. I happen to know that the thing I am writing is terrible. I’m not trying to be humble or anything. It’s a disjointed, unedited first draft that I’m trying not to read until I’ve finished. There’s a line that compares socializing to walking through a minefield because you’re likely to end up with your foot in your mouth. Tasteless, Stephanie.

The second problem I’m facing is that, for the life of me, I can’t make myself sit down and write. I’m a basher, not a swooper, so it takes me a long time to write 1,666 words.

That’s Time I Have Instead Chosen to Spend…

1. …re-watching TV shows I’ve seen 90 times on Netflix.

2. …baking three pies for some reason. No one human needs three pies.

3. …eating three pies.

4. …going to the gym to burn off the calories from three pies. This is my third-least favorite activity, behind washing dishes and learning about vicious chimpanzee attacks, but I’ll do it if it means I don’t have to write.

5. …washing dishes.

6. …learning about vicious chimpanzee attacks.

7. …feeling guilty about not writing. I don’t have a family, or much of a social life, or really any obligations outside of work, so I should have written a hundred books by now. A million!

8. …feeling guilty for writing anything that won’t go towards my word count. Oh god. I should be writing that thing! I just wasted 1,000 words on this post! I have to stop blogging!

I wonder if 30 Rock is as funny the seventh time.

It's probably going to take me three or four seasons to know for sure.

It’s probably going to take me three or four seasons to know for sure.


  1. Katie Flynn

    So far this Nano, which is also my 4th, I have written 2,000 words which are crap. I have also read five novels and watched about 5 movies every night instead of writing. It’s nice to hear someone else is having Nano troubles.

  2. asouthafricanvegetarianinkorea

    Ah I wish I had known about this NaNoWriMo challenge! It sounds awesome! I hope you end up happy with the results!

  3. weebluebirdie

    I’m using those same avoidance tactics to not do my work, well not the same obviously. I can’t bake pies because we haven’t got an oven at the office; but I can go for a walk the long way round to the pie shop to buy 3 pies for me and my colleagues. I can also read blogs and take up more work time by writing comments.

  4. Leslie Holt

    Yes. Yes. Yes.
    But how’s the mustache coming?
    Didn’t I read somewhere that experts on vicious chimpanzees all hath mustaches going in Movember.
    P.S. Comments on blogs about NaNoWriMo so do count toward the 1,666 goal.
    P.P.S. So do lines and lines of lorem ipsum text.

  5. everythingpersonal

    I like what you’re doing. Or not doing, actually. Anyway, it’s fun to see just how strange and wonderful people are out there.

  6. Lorna's Voice

    So far, I managed to write and publish 2 books without the help of Nanomombocombo, or whatever it is. Is 50,000 words really a whole book? My books are in 110,000 word range. Am I too wordy? Maybe some people need contests or challenges. Me? I don’t need the pressure. I can find enough pressure all by myself!

  7. moosha23

    Haha, good luck with this NaNoWriMo year! And yep…for definite saying that you’re writing a book is snooty (even if it’s utter crap, which first drafts seem to thrive on).

  8. TIND

    Sure, no human NEEDS three pies, but one could say the entire point of being human is that you CAN have three pies! Just smile through a mouthful of sweetcrust and proud you live so far up the food chain. Huzzah for pies!

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  12. ndirisheyes

    YOU ARE AMAZING. I feel like we should be best friends, I love your sense of humor and you have motivated me to try (and likely fail) at writing my own book next month

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