NaNoWriMo 2018: Self-Care During NaNo

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Week two of National Novel Writing Month 2018 is drawing to a close and I, for one, am beat.

Over the years, I’ve found that NaNoWriMo exhaustion exists in a league all its own. It’s not like normal writing exhaustion, where you take a breather for a few days, put down the pen for a week, or bounce around with some other ideas while you let your current work-in-progress finished. It’s not that you can’t do these things during NaNoWriMo, of course. But there is a lot of pressure not to, because the whole point of National Novel Writing Month is to get down a 50,000 word first draft of one single novel in one month’s time. That kind of goal requires at least a little bit of writing every day, and leaves little to no room to play around with other projects simultaneously.

With a challenge as intense as NaNoWriMo, it becomes all the more important for participants to heed their mental health and practice self care. It’s easy to get caught-up in the chaos of writing 1,667 words every day, jumping into word sprints and word wars to push the daily quota, but the mania of it can leave one feeling drained at the end of the day - or even the hour, if that’s all the time one has to cram in their writing for the day. NaNoWriMo isn’t exempt from the pitfalls of regular, day-to-day writing, either. You can still get stuck in your story. You can still plateau. And this becomes all the more frustrating when your goal was to push through an extra thousand words, or when you feel you’re falling behind in the challenge.

Basically, as fun as NaNoWriMo is (and I swear it is!), there’s a lot of potential stress that comes with it. It’s a lot to deal with, and all the more reason to find ways to unwind, let go, and let your mind rest in the midst of such a literary frenzy.

GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT.

Even the smallest accomplishment, like getting one hundred words on paper or sitting down to write for five or ten minutes, is still an accomplishment. In a challenge where the end goal is a lofty 50K, it can be easy to overlook the baby steps we take along the way.

A little tip? Take a moment each day to look at your manuscript, look at word count, and congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come. Only wrote fifty words today? Great! That’s fifty more than you had yesterday, and those fifty words are nudging you closer to the finish line. Be proud of them.

And a little bonus tip: stop using the words only or just when you talk about your daily word counts. “I only got 200 words.”; “I just have 10,000.” No, no, no. “I wrote 200 words!”; “I’m have 10,000 words!” Change your language, change your perspective, and give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve taken on a pretty hefty challenge, and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate your progress. You’re doing this. It’s hard, but you’re doing it, and that’s pretty exceptional no matter what your word count looks like.

TAKE BREAKS.

We’ve all been there: we sit down to write with a big cup of coffee in the morning, and by the time we go to take a sip we discover that five hours have gone by and the coffee’s gone cold. And sure, these marathon sessions can really help boost our word counts and get us that much closer to hitting 50,000 words. But they shouldn’t be the norm, and we certainly shouldn’t buckle down for another three hours once we’ve figured out how much time has passed.

You and your novel will need to take breaks from one another. It’s important for your relationship. Trust me. Set a timer, write until it goes off, and then get away from the computer. Go take a walk, or go to a fitness class, or meet up with a friend. Watch a movie, catch up on some Netflix, take a nap. Whatever it is that will let you untangle yourself from the fictional world you’re building? Do that. I promise you, it works wonders, because when you sit back down you’ll be refreshed and probably a bit more inspired than you felt when you left.

Your novel will still be there when you get back. Your characters aren’t going anywhere. They’ll probably thank you for the breather, and you’ll definitely feel less drained at the end of the day.

DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS.

We’re halfway through the month. Some people have already hit their 50,000; some people have gone beyond that goal; some people are right on track; some people are stuck at 10,000 with no idea where to go from here. Some people feel great, others are struggling.

It can be easy to look at someone else’s word count and think, “Wow! They’re doing so great! I should be there, too. Why am I not doing as well as they are?” Get this out of your head. You don’t know what other WriMos are going through or what their circumstances are, and other WriMos don’t know what you’re going through or what your circumstances are. No two writers’ experiences are going to be the same - so why would you compare your journey to someone else’s?

It’s okay to feel a little jealous. We’d all love to be crossing the finish line sooner rather than later! But it’s important not to let that jealousy eat us up so much that it distracts us from our novels. And while the NaNoWriMo community is great and supportive and tons of fun to be in, don’t be afraid to take a little step back if you find yourself getting hung up on other people’s word counts.

A little internet break can do a ton for both you and your novel. It’ll give you the chance of focusing solely on your work while preventing you from holding your book up to someone else’s. Take some time away from word count reporting and just focus on you. When you come back, shout what you’ve accomplished to the rooftops - be proud! - and take the time to congratulate your friends on their word counts, too.

Ultimately, when you’re feeling stressed and bogged down and like NaNoWriMo has entirely devoured your soul, the most important question to ask yourself is: What do I need right now?

Take a few minutes out of each day to seriously consider this question. The answer will probably vary from day to day. Maybe you need to get away from your novel and get coffee with a friend. Maybe you need to go for a run to clear your head. Maybe you need a short internet hiatus to refocus yourself. Maybe you need to work on a different project for an hour or so, or to take a day off all together. Whatever it is, honor your mind and body’s needs, because the better you feel each day, the better your NaNoWriMo experience will be.