8 Ways To Explain NaNoWriMo To Your Non-Writer Friends

It’s that time of year again, when #NaNoWriMo takes over your Twitter feed and writers all over the world embark on a physical, psychological, and emotional journey that will push them to the limit and take them to the edge (of sanity). It’s a literary American Ninja Warrior course that requires very little upper arm strength. You can have quads that look like string beans and still compete in NaNoWriMo, but you better have the mental fortitude of Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearing.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably already written at least a sentence or two in your 2015 NaNoWriMo quest. Or maybe you’re taking a break this year so you can catch up on Scream Queens (who is the Red Devil already?!) or read all 900-plus pages of City on Fire instead of writing a novel. Or maybe you’re just sitting around avoiding your manuscript. If that’s the case, get back to work (as soon as you finish reading this post!).

And if you’re not a writer, you might be wondering why everyone is freaking out and attempting to draft a novel by November 30, because that doesn’t sound like fun at all. If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and you have a bunch of non-writer friends (lawyers, accountants, veterinarians, PR people) who are like, “Why have you been locked in your room for two days with that insane look in your eyes?”— don’t stress. There is a logical explanation for why you’re doing this insane thing that’s making your eyes bug out.

You might be having trouble explaining NaNoWriMo to your non-writer friends, so here are a few potential questions you’ll get, with a few sample answers, so you can be prepared when you step outside of your sunless writing hovel into the light and get bombarded with questions and concerns like these:

WTH Is NaNoWriMo?

You probably asked this very question once upon a time, before you found out that it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and that it was started by a few dozen writers in San Francisco back in 1999. So when your friends ask, just tell them what it stands for, and explain that it’s a 30-day challenge each November where you sit down and write a 50,000-word novel for the sheer joy (and/or hell) of it. And then they’ll probably say…

Why the Hell Would You Do That?

At the beginning of November, you might answer this question with something like: “Because I’m a writer and this is an amazing challenge and I feel so inspired I will win the Pulitzer because of NaNoWriMo!!!” Then, at the end of November, your answer might be more like, “Because I’m a masochist and life is pain and suffering.” Either answer works!

Are You Going To Finish?

Again, your answer to this question may change over the course of November as your moods shift and plunge deeper into darkness and despair. When someone asks a rude question like this, you can say, “Hell yes I am! I’m a writing machine! I’m in the zone!” Or you could say, “Why would you ask such a hurtful question? I’m 26 words in and it’s November 23, you jerk!” Finally, you could just grunt and give them the evil eye, and then return to your sunless writing hovel to stare at your unfinished novel and cry.

Are You Nervous?

Some well-intentioned friends and acquaintances will no doubt toss this seemingly innocent question your way. Here’s what you say: “You know, it’s complicated. Writing a novel in 30 days is of course scary, but I signed up for this challenge, for free, of my own volition. Yes, I’m nervous. But at least I’m writing!” If you're not nervous at all, you should write a how-to guide about NaNoWriMo and share it with the world.

What Do You Win?

"Nothing." That’s one way to answer. Or you could say, “There are no material prizes but the satisfaction of knowing I’ve accomplished a dream and written a novel is my reward.” If you’re in a joking mood you could say, “Well hopefully I win an 8 million dollar book deal like Amy Schumer even though I work in a pet store in Ohio and I only have six Twitter followers!” The answer to this question will vary from person to person, depending on whether you're a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type.

What About Your Job?

People will wonder how you’re going to write a novel in a month and juggle all that scribbling with your job. If you have a job, you can tell them that many writers have to write late at night, like from 3 a.m. until they go to work at 9, and that’s what you’re doing as well. It’s about sacrifice. Or, if you’re newly laid off and between jobs, you can just explain that this is giving your life meaning and purpose as you search Craigslist for entry level gigs that are not related in any way whatsoever to your chosen field—writing.

Can You Cheat?

Technically, sure, you can probably find ways to reach 50,000 words by November 30 without actually typing them for the first time during these 30 days. But if you do that you are the WORST type of human being and someone should perform a citizen’s arrest on your ass. So the correct answer is: “Technically, yes, but why would you cheat? That defeats the spirit of NaNoWriMo.”

What Are You Writing About?

Ah, every writer’s favorite query: “What is your book about?” Maybe you have the pitch nailed down and you can be like, “It’s a dystopian fable about teenage lovers in Calgary in the year 4050 who have to defeat an evil regime in order to save their species and live happily every after.” Or you can say, “It’s like Infinite Jest, but the shorter version.” Maybe you’re a terrible salesperson or you’re just superstitious about talking about a work of art until you feel it’s finished. In that case, just say, “I don’t discuss my work until my $8 million book deal is in place.” Your choice.

So now you can continue furiously typing your NaNoWriMo novel while still fielding questions from your curious friends who are wondering why you’re skipping out on brunch so often this month. Good luck, may The Force be with you, and remember to Just. Keep. Typing.

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