November, for many writers, means one thing: the terrifying yet exhilarating prospect of drafting a 50,000 novel in 30 days in a challenge called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Assuming a steady schedule, that’s 1,667 words per day, and, not including planning time, it takes one to two hours or so, depending on whether they’re handwriting or typing and how fast the ideas are flowing.
One or two hours a day maybe doesn’t sound too much, and for the first few days, maybe it doesn’t feel like much, either. But eventually, it takes its toll. One or two hours a day is a lot to carve out for an entire month when you already have a full life. Maybe dishes pile up in the sink; maybe laundry doesn’t get done; maybe you look up at the end of the month and realise there are friends you haven’t seen since you went into your cave at the end of October.
We all have times when we need extra support. Healthy friendships consist of give-and-take, and your friend will hopefully be there for you when, say, you need help moving house or planning your baby shower. And in exchange, NaNoWriMo is a time for you to step in as a good friend, if you’re able. From a veteran NaNoWriMo participant and sometimes winner, here are some suggestions on how to support a writer friend during this time.
Don’t Be Mad if They Can’t Hang Out
That one or two hours daily – and maybe extra time for planning – have to come from somewhere. Since most of us have to go to work and/or look after little ones, wash and feed ourselves and maybe others, and have at least minimal interaction with the people we live with, it’s inevitable that some things will get dropped, and that some of those things will be social. Don’t take it personally; it’s not you. They might well be longing to get away from their desk to hang out with you. But their discipline to remain at their desk is what will help them complete the challenge.
Ask Them How It’s Going
If you do get to hang out with them, or if you have the kind of friendship where you exchange texts, make it a habit to ask them how it’s going. Maybe they’re the kind of person who benefits by processing outwardly and bouncing ideas back and forth. But even just knowing you’re going to check in with them can help keep them on track – especially in the crucial second and third weeks, which tend to feel harder going.
Brainstorm With Them – If They Want You To
Speaking of batting ideas back and forth, some of your writer friends will find that invaluable – but not all will. Before offering your ideas, check if they want them. If they don’t, try not to take it personally. Everyone has their own creative process. But if they do, be generous with your ideas. Maybe even have a pen and paper with you and jot done some of what you’re talking about so they can be free to let their creative neurons fire during your conversation.
Offer to Help Later, But Only if You Mean it
If you have certain skills, like beta reading, cover design, or even audiobook narrating, they’d likely welcome your help. And offering it now will help them visualise their Word document as a book, which contributes to their all-important motivation. But only offer it if you have the time and the energy to devote to it – it can be really discouraging to have somebody promise to make big dreams like this come true and then not follow through.
Make Them Meals
Although certain responsibilities can be put on hold for a month, there are some things you can’t avoid. Eating, for example. But the last thing a writer has time for during NaNoWriMo is cooking. And so, unless your friend is organised enough to have put 12 lasagnas in the freezer in October, they’re going to need some help. Some of it might come from a supportive spouse or housemate; some of it might come from delivery services – and since that will get expensive, they would likely love a gift card.
But nothing beats the care and comfort of homecooked meals from a friend. And it’s even better if they don’t have to think about it. Don’t ask them to make a decision. They probably don’t have space in their brains. Just ask them if there’s anything they don’t eat and what time they’d like food, and show up with it, then leave. If they want to talk, talk – but gently check they’re not just procrastinating and sternly send them back to their desk if they need you to!
Celebrate With Them
At certain milestones along the way, and definitely at the end once the pressure is off, plan to hang out with them and celebrate their achievement. Even if they didn’t write 50,000 words, they likely wrote something, and that’s definitely worthy of your guilty pleasure of choice: an indulgent dessert, a slap-up meal at your favourite restaurant, maybe even a girls’ trip. Having things like that planned in advance can cheer them up when they’re missing social interaction with you, and also help keep them going with their writing when they feel like giving up.
Protect Your Own Time, Too
Obviously, you have your own life and challenges, and your entire life can’t be devoted to one person and their creativity. So take or leave what you’d like from these suggestions, but don’t put pressure on yourself to do all of them.
Who knows, you might even end up in the acknowledgements of a book as a result!