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10 must-haves to write a novel in one month

Posted by Delia Cabe  November 8, 2011 10:04 AM

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On November 1, hopeful novelists everywhere started their annual quest: 50,000 words in 30 days. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, describes it as "Thirty days and nights of literary abandon." By November 30 and all that typing, these writers hope to have written the Great American (or whatever your nationality) Novel or some semblance of one.

For those of you embarking on this bibliomanic journey this month, you're going to need plenty of writing supplies. Consider these:

World's largest pencil
This 76-foot, 18,000-pound pencil was made to honor Sri Chimnoy's 76th birthday. (Why a ginormous pencil was deemed an appropo gift is not explained.) The pencil, which took 7,000 man-hours to make and 4,000 pounds of graphite, is on exhibit at City Museum in Queens, New York. If you favor number 2 pencils and need a 250-pound eraser, this pencil will get you through NaNoWriMo, some heavy lifting required. Or you could just buy its equivalent, 1,900,000 pencils (about $270 at Staples).

Edith Wharton wrote in her bed, presumably wearing sleepwear, and she hit the big time. Writer Ann Leary calls it her "bed desk" and does book reviews from her comfy bed. These book lover pajamas ($64) by Frankie and Johnny will get you in the mood. Add your favorite fluffy slippers.
book lover pajamas.jpg
Author Sandra Cisneros cops to writing in her pajamas and titled her book, "Writing in My Pajamas."

The Ostrich
Perhaps a bed desk will impede your productivity. Instead, you prefer to maintain the illusion of writing intensely at your desk, yet plan to grab a few zzz's now and then. Kawamura-Ganjavian, an architecture and design studio based in Madrid, came up with the Ostrich for those power naps. No word on what to do with the severe case of bedhead that results. They refer to it as a "micro-environment" and "cave-like." I think of it as smothering and claustrophobic, mussed hair or no.

An animal of some kind
Ernest Hemingway had his many cats. Susan Orlean, author of current bestseller, Rin Tin Tin, raises chickens and shares her home with dogs and cats. Julie Klam rescues Boston Terriers, keeps several and writes about them, her latest, Love at First Bark. If you want to make the New York Times Best Seller list, you need a pet as a muse. Still need convincing? You can see more writers and their pets here.

Wharton with her beloved dogs, minus her pajamas

Anyone can own a dictionary or check an online thesaurus. But you should surround yourself with stuff that makes you feel like a writer. An ascot, a vintage typewriter, perhaps a quill. You can go all John-Boy Walton and get yourself some old-fashioned wire-frame specs and a Big Chief Writing Tablet. The ultimate mecca for writerly supplies is, of course, Levenger's, "tools for serious readers" and writers.

At Levenger's, you don't buy pens. You are into "pen outfitting." Take notes on ordinary index cards or, as Gay Talese does, on the cardboard included with men's dress shirts? That's so ordinary. The only proper way to plot your novel is on Levenger's 3" by 5" cards (personalized; $99 for 1,000), stored in a "mobile leather notepad" aka "Bomber Jacket International Briefcase" ($69). For inspiration, order yourself a David McCullough Typewriter Bookend ($99).

Coffee, coffee, coffee
You'll need plenty of caffeine to fuel this literary marathon. Skip frequent trips to the coffee shop or the grocer's. Save time by ordering in bulk. Twenty-five pounds of java goes for about $200 to $250, plus delivery to your door. Buy your bibliophile mug here. Tip: Those with small bladders should stock up on toilet paper from Costco. An alternative is wearing adult diapers (think: astronaut on 800-mile road trip to confront her lover's lover.), so that you don't have to get up from your desk as often.

Stiff drinks
An alternative to guzzling coffee could be drinking like your favorite author. But do so at your own peril. Many writers were ruined by drink. Moderation is key. Hemingway (Ernest's grandson) & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers offers cocktail recipes enjoyed by authors from James Agee to Thomas Wolfe.

Time sink
Now's the time to work like a real writer. And by work, I mean "have a readily available way to avoid writing." Every writer needs a distraction. On Twitter, you can chat with numerous people around the world who are participating in NaNoWriMo FOR HOURS. Stop putting off downloading the "Angry Birds" app and waste some serious time playing. (Also, reread "Animal of some kind" entry above. Pets are great diversions.) NaNoWriMo is also a good time to catch up on all those undone things on your to-do list: dusting behind the fridge, sorting socks, cleaning your keyboard, scrubbing and resealing bathroom tile grout, starting your Christmas shopping online. (Note: All that coffee you tossed back will give you the energy to get these chores done.)

And if by month's and novel's end, you have thousands of pages that you abhor, you can get a heavy-duty shredder--chews up 700 pages at once rendering them even more unreadable!--for $5,199. A more carbon friendly option might be the aforementioned pet.

Then start anew.

Daisy shredding the newspaper

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Delia Cabe's work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Self, Prevention, Scientific American Presents, and other publications. In between posts, you can read Cabe's tweets at!/DeliaCabe, More »

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