Friday, October 29, 2021

The Spouse's Guide to NaNoWriMo: Juggling Life and Writing in November

By Thomas Hardy

JH: Here's some advice on how the non-writers in your life can help you manage NaNo.

Ah, November. The thrill of Halloween is fading. A chill is in the air. Autumn leaves are putting on their best displays of the year. Pumpkin spice is in the air. And every writer I know is suddenly offline, uncommunicative and hard to find.

Yes folks, it’s NaNo time. National Novel Writing Month is here and the Starbucks gatherings sound like a herd of mice in tap shoes.

I’m married to an author. NaNo has been part of our holiday cycle for a lot of years now. It’s a period where she is doing her best to focus and make it the most productive 30 days of the year. That takes a big commitment from her and as hard as it is, it can be just as tough on a spouse. So here are a few thoughts to help you get through it together.

Listen Up You Writers

It’s exciting to get into the NaNo groove and crank out the wordage, especially if you participate in a group that gets together regularly. Being around others can help boost your productivity, your self-esteem and make it all the more enticing to keep typing away.

The downside is that the hours for NaNo usually come from time you normally do other things. Regular jobs are notoriously inflexible about giving you the month off to write, so it has to come from other parts of your days. Maybe some hours where you fulfill your regular “weekly chores” that every adult has in maintaining a life. Maybe some hours are from what would be couples time. Or from friends and family time. It comes from time spent watching Netflix with your spouse.

While you see the value of NaNo, and the commitment and energy it requires is obvious to you, it may be less so for your spouse. So take a bit of time and have a conversation with them. Explain that you want to commit to this. It isn’t that you don’t want to spend time with them, it’s that you are working against a timer and a large commitment.

Some tips:

Make a date night to help kick things off. 

If you were going on a trip for a month, you’d make time to have a great night with your spouse before you went. You’ll probably have less quality time together this month so treat it the same way.

Set up something your spouse would love to do with their free time. 

Is there a new book series they were thinking about? Get it for them. Maybe they wanted to try the hot new video game. Is there a Netflix series they wanted to binge-watch but never had the free time to do it? Did they want to take a cooking class? Whatever their hobby, see if you can get them something that will leave them extra engaged in their hobby while you are less available.

Set another date night at least once a week during NaNo. 

Make sure to give them your full attention. Let them pick what you do, be it a quiet dinner, a monster truck rally or whatever. It’s a month of you getting the time you need to write, so help them feel like they get some great fun mixed in as well.

When Thanksgiving rolls around, be ready to drop NaNo if that’s what your relationship needs. 

Work ahead to get your word count up so you won’t stress when you take off two days to go to the Family Thanksgiving.

Plan a welcome home party when you are done. 

Again, pretend you’ve been on a trip for a month and haven’t seen your sweetie. What would make a great welcome home? Fancy dinner out? Netflix and chill? Skip the Netflix? Whatever suits you both as quality “together” time.

Last, but not least: 

Don’t assume that your immersion in writhing this month means that’s what your spouse wants to talk about every moment you are together. 

Some spouses like to talk about the writing, some may not. But when they're already seeing less of you, spending what quality time you have talking about it may be a bit much. Be ready (and willing) to compartmentalize.

And Now For The Spouses Out There

If your Significant Other is a writer engaged in NaNo, this can be a lonely time. She or he will be working hard to carve out every possible minute for writing to hit their goals. This can mean fewer meals together, less time going out and fewer evenings doing things together. Hitting their goals in NaNo requires a lot of time and effort.

NaNo is as much about immersion as it is about targets and goals. Your S/O will be thinking about writing all day. Even when they are not writing, they will be planning storylines in their head. Trying to work things out before it’s time to put them down on paper in the next writing session. Of course everyone is different, but I don’t know any NaNo writers that are not virtually 24/7 thinking about writing during November.

It’s not that they don’t want to be with you, it’s just that they're racing the clock and it takes everything they can give to stay with it.

During November, if you find yourself with a lot of alone time (or time together where she is writing and you have to entertain yourself), look for things you don’t normally get time for.


Get a pair of headphones. 

It’ll make watching TV or playing a game or listening to music less distracting for your spouse, who is neck deep in plot lines and character voices.

Take charge of planning a date night once a week. 

Pick things you enjoy, because there’s a good chance your spouse will be a bit mentally fried by the time date night rolls around. If you make all of the decisions, it’ll be more time for being together and less time for “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?”

Don’t be afraid to leave. 

Not forever but for a while. Have some old friends you have not seen much of lately? It’s a great time to take off for an evening and give your spouse the quiet time to write. Been needing to go visit your parents for a few days? Go do it. A quiet weekend with zero distractions (yeah, I said it. I called you a distraction) can be the best writing time possible.

Put yourself in their shoes. 

Most writers want to write and get paid for it. Not all of them have hit that milestone yet, but most want to. So think of it like a job. Your spouse is working an extra job this month. If you had extra commitments at work and had to put in extra time, you’d hope to get some patience and understanding from your spouse. Give them the same. They may not be a best selling author, but they are working hard to try and get something done.

Is there a major something you’ve always wanted to do?

Learn to blow glass? Take a pottery class? Join a dart league? If it’s just the two of your, this could be the perfect time to do it, so neither of you feel lonely while the other is having fun. If you have kids, maybe NaNo is writing month for them, but January is Beer Dart league for you and you can trade off child care duties.

Last but not least: 

If it’s getting tough. If you start to feel left out, ignored or sidelined, say something. 

There’s no need for arguments. Just a calm “hey honey, I’m starting to feel ignored here.” There’s no problem that cannot be worked out with some give and take on both parts.

NaNo can be tough, demanding, exciting, thrilling, exhausting and difficult. Let’s all do our best on both ends to make it as pleasant as possible. Keep the communication up and make sure you treat each other with compassion.

How do you juggle NaNo and life?

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