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Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going

Watching a person write is one of the most boring things in the world. Please don’t inflict your process on us.

Try staring at this for a while. It’s boring, isn’t it?
Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s almost November, which means it’s roundabout the anniversary of when I last checked that I had muted the Twitter hashtag #NaNoWriMo and also its year-round ugly twin #amwriting. I just needed to be sure. I’ve just done this year’s annual check-up and yes – breathe a massive sigh of relief guys, wipe the sweat off that furrowed brow – they are still wholly blocked along with #NaNoPrep and also #NaNoWriMoPrep because I like to cast my dick net wide. To the best of my abilities I have ensured that the doors of my nuclear/NaNoWriMo bunker are shut tight for November, unless a Twitter technicality leaves me open to a torrent of inanity from everyone who thinks that peer pressure alone will be enough to make them finish their 50,000 word novel in the space of a month. I’ve got canned goods down here. I’ve seen The Road. I’ll be fine.

National Novel Writing Month is when 300k+ people sign up and swear to themselves/each other that they will write 1,700 thousand words per day, from 1 November to their final, juddering finish on 30 November. In one month they will go from being a primary school teacher or waitress or guy who fixes cars to novelist, which is a great thing. But over the next six weeks there will be a lot of people trying to help. There will be webinars hosted by people you’ve never heard of who have “novelist” and “writer” in their Twitter bio beside a black and white photo of them with their hand on their chin, wanting to teach you how to use a writing programme they designed to order to more easily organise your 50,000 words (accidentally set your novel in a shit place? Just do a universal Find & Replace and change it from Wigan to Paris! They’re basically the same, you don’t need to change anything else, this is a problem now solved – you can change this problem to a different colour on your problem chart). There will be blog posts telling you how to cheat your way to a great book (use the Snowflake Method! It’s like fractals but for stories! Here, let me explain fractals to you). There will be inspirational quotes to “unleash the novelist inside you”.  There will be articles about life-saving tips for writers written by previous NaNoWriMo participants, usually ranging from 5 to 12 tips, half of which are about believing in yourself. 

People will link to time-saving apps and spread the work about distraction-killing apps because while you are a person signing up to write a novel, clearly the last thing you want to do is actually write a novel. People will blog about the loneliness of being a writer, having been one now for three whole days. Others will talk about how they made themselves cry with a scene they just wrote, how they broke their own dumb heart. People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER. Plus actor. Or whatever.

All of Tumblr will be #writing the most politically correct book ever using all of their favourite hashtags (there will be no white people in these books, and if a white person is writing it they will be checking their privilege against everything that happens throughout, in footnotes). Some joker will bait the NaNoWriMo forums by posting an excerpt of Ulysses or Infinite Jest and asking for feedback, and they will be roundly rubbished on the boards for their rambling descriptions, superfluous words, and one helpful person will always suggest they pick up a copy of The Elements of Style by E B White to help them with the next few chapters.

Over on Twitter there will be thousands of these: “Bloody protagonist, taking the story in a different direction! Don’t they realise I’m on a tight schedule here?! #amwriting” and “Just realised why this novel isn’t making any sense. There’s a plot issue in the second arc. No sleep for me! #amwriting” and “what is another word for nervous? #amwriting”. Thesauruses exist. Other stuff to talk about exists. No one needs to know your process.

Because one of the most boring things in the world is watching a person write. They do not move. Their google searches are tedious; they google synonyms for words they just made up. If you ask a novelist how they wrote their book, it’s always “I researched a bit and then I didn’t get out of my pyjamas for properly ages.” That’s it. There was probably an exiting moment when a blob of apricot jam fell off a bit of their crumpet and they had to suck it out of the lapel of their dressing gown to avoid having to wash it properly. That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong – like everyone else with a Macbook and enough money to buy coffee, I sit in coffee shops and write my stupid novel. Pretty much everyone you know and love thinks they have a book in them, and pretty much everyone you know and love has roughly 3,000 words of it written in a dead file in the back corner of a hard drive three computers ago that they won’t tell you about. You are not special. No one cares how your novel is going. Maybe it’ll go somewhere, maybe it won’t. But the actual finished novel is entirely beside the point.

Just shut up and fucking write it.

Hayley Campbell writes for a number of publications, but then who doesn't. You should follow her on Twitter: @hayleycampbell.

Picture: STAVROS DAMOS
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Jonathan Safran Foer Q&A: “I feel like every good piece of advice boils down to patience”

The author on delivering babies, Chance The Rapper, and sailing down the Erie Canal.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the novels “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, and the nonfiction book “Eating Animals”. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

What’s your earliest memory?

Falling asleep on my dad’s chest on a swing at my grandparents’ house. But the memory is a bit suspicious because there is a photograph and I remember my mum taking it, so I guess I wasn’t really asleep.

Who are your heroes?

The only person I have ever been nervous to meet, or whose presence felt larger than life, is Barack Obama. I don’t think that makes him a hero but there are many ways in which I aspire to be more like him.

What was the last book that made you envy the writer?

Man Is Not Alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It’s a meditation on religion – not really organised religion but the feeling of religiosity and spirituality. I can’t believe how clear he is about the most complicated subjects that feel like language shouldn’t be able to capture. It really changed me.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

There was a period of about two years when my kids and I would go to an inn every other weekend so maybe the inns of Mid-Atlantic states? I’m not sure Mastermind would ever ask about that, though, so my other specialism is 20th century architecture and design.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would be very happy to return to my childhood in Washington, DC. In a way, what I would really like is to be somewhere else at another time as somebody else. 

What TV show could you not live without?

I really like Veep, it’s unbelievably funny – but I could definitely live without it. Podcasts, on the other hand, are something that I could live without but might not be able to sleep without.

What’s your theme tune?

I don’t have a theme tune but I do have a ringtone, which is this Chance The Rapper song called “Juice”. Every time it rings, it goes: “I got the juice, I got the juice, I got the juice, juice, juice.” I absolutely love it and I find myself singing it constantly.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It isn’t really delivered as advice but King Solomon says in the Bible: “This, too, shall pass.” I feel like every good piece of advice I’ve ever heard – about parenting, writing, relationships, inner turmoil – boils down to patience.

When were you happiest?

I took a vacation with my two sons recently where we rented a narrowboat and sailed down Erie Canal. We were so drunk on the thrill of hiring our own boat, the weather, the solitude, just the excitement of it. I can’t remember being happier than that.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

An obstetrician. No obstetrician comes home on a Friday and thinks: “I delivered 20 babies this week, what’s the point?” The point is so self-evident. Writing is the opposite of that. I managed not to fill any pages this week with my bad jokes and trite ideas, flat images and unbelievable characters. Being a part of the drama of life in such a direct way really appeals to me.

Are we all doomed?

We’re all going to die. Isn’t that what it is to be doomed? There is a wonderful line at the end of Man Is Not Alone, which is something along the lines of: for the person who is capable of appreciating the cyclicality of life, to die is privilege. It’s not doom but one’s ultimate participation in life. Everything needs to change.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel “Here I Am” is published in paperback by Penguin

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem