Self-Care During NaNoWriMo

Self-care.

You may have heard the term before. A generic definition for the term is “the practice of activities that are necessary to sustain life and health, normally initiated and carried out by the individual for him- or herself.”

Picture1If we break that down a bit, we can see there are a few day-to-day activities that fall into that category: eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, some minimal level of physical activity. These days, having a steady source of income can also be considered self-care, so you can provide a roof over your own head and other comforts. That said, it’s well understood that a steady source of income comes with its own stressors that can interfere with other parts of your self-care, but that’s a topic for another day.

As novelists and artists, we have additional components to our self-care that may not be obvious at first. We are the custodians of our own creativity, and it is up to us to guard that creativity, the same way we might guard the time we need to sleep and to eat meals. As you might have guessed, doing the basics and checking them off the list may not be enough for us. Did you sleep? Yes? Great. Was it only for five hours last night? ….. Well, how about food. Did you eat? Yes? Good start. Was it nutritious, energizing food, or something greasy you’ll probably regret later?  …..  If these snippets sound like you, you may need to re-examine your self-care habits and adjust them.

At the first sign of heightened stress and activity, self-care often goes out the window. We short-change ourselves on sleep, eat unhealthy convenience foods, don’t exercise, and forget to take quiet time for ourselves.

The articles on adequate sleep, good nutrition, and a proper exercise regimen, all for stress-management, are plentiful. If you haven’t done any basic research in those areas, I invite you to take a quick look.

So, let’s say you manage to master those basics – get enough sleep, have a pantry full of healthy food, and get a little physical activity each day. Even just those simple things can go a long way to boosting your mood and, thus, your creative productivity. But if you’re still struggling, it can be because you need to widen the scope of your self-care, to not just your physical needs, but also your mental needs.

Here are a few things that we, as writers and creators, might need as critical components to creative self-care:

1)    Take a break. Set aside some time just to relax. Try it just for 30 minutes. Watch a TV show that’s non-toxic and makes you laugh. Read a few pages from an inspirational book, even if you’ve read it before. Meditate. Organize something. Whatever you do, make sure it’s soothing to you. For this kind of activity, hopping on social media can be helpful for some people, but if that’s your choice, be sure to steer away from profiles and posts that you know will suck you into stressful, toxic discussions. If you know you can’t do that and will be too tempted, then maybe seek a different activity. The point is to avoid getting riled up and to let your brain just rest for a little while.

Picture22)    Do something you know you’re good at. Whether it’s playing piano or guitar, cleaning the kitchen, gardening, painting or drawing, cooking, or patting your head while rubbing your belly, doing a familiar task that you know you are capable of doing will boost your self-confidence and self-esteem and renew your sense of creativity.

3)    Visit somewhere new. If you are mobile, try going to a new location, perhaps one that you have been meaning to visit but never got around to it. Is there a local museum you’d like to explore? A park or garden that you’ve admired as you’ve driven past? A local shop you spotted but never stopped in? Let yourself explore.

4)    Take care of something that’s been bugging you. A stack of clothing in the bottom of your closet you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill; the pile of leaves in the backyard that needs to be bagged or composted; dusting; getting an oil change. If you’ve been putting something off that you know you need to do, it can weigh on you in unexpected ways. Check one thing off of your list this week by just gritting your teeth and getting it done.

5)    Journal. When the words won’t flow, sometimes you need to unclog the bottle. Try handwriting a few paragraphs of whatever comes to mind – all of a sudden, you may find things flowing freely. A few ways to start out if the blank page is staring at you judgmentally: “What I really mean to say is….” Or “The reason I don’t want to write is…” Whatever comes out, listen to yourself. Act on it.

Picture3For any activity you do, just remember to limit your duration to avoid overdoing it. A spare half hour to watch some TV should not turn into an 8 hour Netflix binge. Cleaning those clothes out of the bottom of the closet should not turn into an entire afternoon spent re-organizing the whole bedroom. Do what you need to do, enjoy the time you spend doing it, then get back to writing. You’ll be amazed at how refreshed you’ll feel.

Why NaNoWriMo Works

I’m a terrible writer.

I’m not saying that I have bad grammar, poor spelling, or inadequate technical skills. They beat a lot of that out of you in college. I actually have a fairly decent vocabulary, and some of the stuff I’ve written has even been called “interesting.”

No, I’m a terrible writer for one reason: I am inconsistent.

Throughout the year, I make promises to myself about my writing goals. They start out reasonable, but as life makes other plans, they get loftier and loftier, perhaps in an attempt to assuage my guilt at neglecting them in the first place.

As the days roll on and I get done perhaps one fifth of the writing I planned to do, I grow disappointed in myself, my poor time management, and my lack of commitment.

Somehow, all of that changes in November.

I’m still nowhere near perfect (I wrote 158 words yesterday… 158 words), but I’ve reached a point where I cross the 50,000 word threshold in November more often than not, and even have managed to finish some of the projects after the month is over.

In November, suddenly, I Can Do It. It’s not that time somehow mystically appears. I’m busier than ever. But instead of fodder for previously essential naps and chores, open blocks of time in my schedule become prime writing time. Words flow (sometimes haltingly, but they still flow) from my brain to my fingers more readily. And even if I miss par for a few days, rather than viewing it as a life-shattering failure that sends me into a shame spiral, I take it in stride, promise I’ll keep going tomorrow, and then follow through on that promise.

Finally, it occurred to me to ask…. WHY!? What’s the difference? Can I bottle it and keep it with me after November is over, so that I can keep going throughout the year? Here are the answers I’ve been able to come up with so far:

1) Deadlines.

This is elementary, but it bears repeating. Deadlines are a key to productivity. Keep one, and you’ll have a better and better chance of keeping more in the future. And deadlines shouldn’t be arbitrary. Why do you have to meet this deadline? What concrete, immediate reason do you have for picking your particular deadline?

With NaNoWriMo, all of that is built in already – we have a deadline, and we’re a community working together toward that deadline. The structure is created for you, and all you have to do is plug in and buy in. Speaking of community, that leads me to the next reason…

2) Peer Pressure.

We might also call this “community” or just plain “having company.” Whatever you want to think of it as, consider this: while you are plodding away in November, doing what you need to do to get the words on the page, a tiny part of your brain takes comfort in knowing that there are literally thousands of other people across the globe, toiling away just like you.

The lucky thing about NaNo? You have access to those people throughout November, through the NaNoWriMo.org website and various other community things we have as Wrimos (Facebook groups, chats, and even the occasional in-person write-in).

You might view these folks as friendly competitors (“haha, I totally clobbered you in that word war!”) or as essential allies (“OMG that character name you gave me IS PERFECT”) or just as kindred spirits (“[…sharing knowing, exhausted, highly-caffeinated looks across a cozy library nook…]”), but whatever it is, knowing they are alongside you in this crazy endeavor somehow spurs you forward.

Think of it as having a writing workout buddy.

3) Wow Factor/”Crap now I really have to do this”

I love telling non-writers that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s a conversation topic, and it always gets a reaction. “You’re doing what, now?”

Fortunately/unfortunately, it also leads to the inevitable question:

“So, how’s that novel coming along?”

And, as the month progresses:

“Heh, so I bet you gave that novel thing up by now, huh?”

And then, in December:

“Did you ever finish that novel?”

And I love the looks of surprise as I pass each hurdle.

Having those little comments and check-ins pushes me forward, because I don’t want to experience the shame of having to admit I failed. Sometimes it’s a guilt-trip that reminds me I need to get cracking, and sometimes that’s just what I need.

What about you? Do you struggle with writing each day outside of NaNoWriMo? Why do YOU think NaNoWriMo works?

Are you the next Soon to be Famous™ Illinois Author?

To kick off the season, here is a guest blog post from the Chicago Public Libraries!

Dear Self-published Authors,
We think you’re awesome.

Love,

Illinois Librarians

No really, we do!

In fact, there’s a group of us here in Illinois who have made it our mission to seek out and promote the best self-published adult fiction written by Illinois authors; we call this the Soon to be Famous™ Illinois Author Project.  We’re just beginning our third year and we can’t wait to see what the unsung self-published authors of Illinois have for us this year.

So how does this work?

Between October 12, 2015 and January 4, 2016 we will accept entries of self-published adult fiction from Illinois authors.  A rigorous judging process follows.  Librarian judges narrow the field down to 10-15 semifinalists in the first round.  A second round of judging brings us down to our three finalists, and our winner is announced at a media event held during National Library Week in April 2016.

And how do we “make you famous?”

Here’s how that happened for our 2014 award-winner, Joanne Zienty, author of The Things We Save.  The Soon to be Famous™ committee members, all library marketers, collaborated on a series of events to promote Joanne and her book that included appearances at twenty-six different libraries, visits to  five private book clubs, interviews on WGN and WDCB radio, and participation in three conference/literary fest events.  Print articles in the Chicago Tribune, ILA Reporter, Daily Herald, numerous local papers and School Library Journal as well as online publicity from Booklist Online, Forbes, various library/publishing related blogs and the “Soon to be Famous” website also contributed to the spotlight focused on Joanne, her novel, and the whole issue of the relationship between self-publishers and librarians.

And what did this do for her book sales?

The Things We Save was available on Amazon and through other channels for two years before Joanne won the contest. Nine months after the award, she had sold seven time more print versions of the book than were sold during the previous two years–a 600 % increase!  E-book sales through Amazon Kindle jumped almost 375% over the previous two years.  Finally, through Smashwords e-book channels, she sold 15 times as many e-books than she did before the recognition of Soon to Be Famous.

Oh, and libraries?

Straight from the author’s mouth: “Wallowing in self-absorption, I googled my book.  To my astonishment, I discovered my novel had been added to the collection of the public library in Bangor, Maine.  I don’t know a single soul in Bangor, Maine.  But somehow, some way, some librarian deemed my book shelf-worthy.” That Bangor librarian is not alone.  At this writing, Joanne Zienty’s novel is part of the collections of 126 libraries–108 in Illinois, and 18 libraries in 12 other states from Maine to California.

The 2015 Soon to be Famous™ winner Michael Alan Peck, author of The Commons  Book I: The Journeyman, is now in the midst of a full schedule of library appearances, and has also been interviewed on WGN radio.

This could be you!

Self-publishing is big, big business.  Take a look at these numbers compiled by AuthorEarnings.com:

  • 33% of all paid ebook unit sales on Amazon.com are indie self-published ebooks.
  • 20% of all consumer dollars spent on ebooks on Amazon.com are being spent on indie self-published ebooks.
  • 40% of all dollars earned by authors from ebooks on Amazon.com are earned by indie self-published ebooks.
  • In mid-year 2014, indie-published authors as a cohort began taking home the lion’s share (40%) of all ebook author earnings generated on Amazon.com while authors published by all of the Big Five publishers combined slipped into second place at 35%.

No librarian would dream of ignoring 33% of titles sold on Amazon, but without a new way of discovering and evaluating all the new works not included in the traditional journals, librarians are in danger of doing just that.

Help us get the word out that there is a lot of unrecognized literary talent in the self-publishing world.  Enter the Soon to be Famous™ Illinois Author competition.  Librarians are waiting to read your story!

For complete information about the contest and the project, visit http://soontobefamous.info.

On the Eve of Battle

So. Here we are. Mere days away from our adventures in NaNo Land. What are you doing to prepare? Plotting? World building? Character creation? Biting your fingernails? Stocking up on supplies?

Preparation is something a lot of people agonize over when it comes to November. The constant refrain I hear is always the same: “How do I prepare? What should I do to get ready?”

My answer has changed over the years, but with NaNoWriMo now merely days away, my current answer is:

Do absolutely nothing.

Also: Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.

Don't_Panic_BadgeIf there is one basic tenet I took away from NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty’s myriad words of wisdom I have read through the years, it’s that you don’t need to prepare in order to start spouting off pure brilliance throughout the month of November. In fact, sometimes, preparing defeats the point of NaNoWriMo to begin with: joyful, unstructured, literary abandon.

If there is one thing that has been holding many people back from actually writing their novels year after year, it’s this mindset that you need to “do it the right way.” And that “the right way” is something you must somehow learn and plan and be ready for.

NaNoWriMo is the complete opposite of all of that.

Just like 3D printers are putting the manufacturing process back in the hands of the common man, NaNoWriMo has put the noveling process into the hands of the “ordinary person.”

You don’t need a fancy degree to write a novel. You don’t need to have read this book or that book by this famous author on how to write, or have a fancy writing program on your computer. You don’t need to follow anybody’s advice on How to Outline Your Novel or What to Look for in Character Development or How Not to Create Settings that Suck. You barely even have to have an idea. All you need is the desire to write.

Now, that said, there are things out there that make us feel like writers. Personally, I like my moleskine notebooks and square pens, and I like having my NaNoWriMo hoodie on, and my NaNoWriMo coffee mug by my side (now filled with tea!), and I use Scrivener, because these things make me feel writerly. But this isn’t how I started out. If I were bereft of all of them, I would still plunge ahead. Ultimately, it’s less about those things and more about the creativity, and the words, and getting those ideas flowing after months or years of stagnation.

You also shouldn’t completely discount those books by successful authors, or those articles about how to make great characters and settings. They will be really useful – when you go back and decide to edit. But for now? Bookmark them, set them aside, and focus on what’s in front of you.

If you are just now deciding to do NaNoWriMo, but fear taking that leap because you don’t have enough time to “get ready,” then here’s what to do:

1) On November 1st, sit down in front of your chosen writing implement, open up a blank page, and:

2) Just. Freaking. Write.