The “Secret” To Winning NaNoWriMo

I have an insight.

Just hear me out.

There’s a widespread secret to “winning” NaNoWriMo (in the traditional sense). And it’s actually numerically true. Like, it’s measurable and about as scientific as you can get when you’re talking about something like noveling.

Here is the secret:

Survive Week Two.

Without fail, every single NaNoWriMo, the sharpest drop-off occurs after Week One. People can go strong for 5 to 7 days. That’s easy – it’s practically like a Creation Vacation! WHEE, NOVELING! But then… you realize… oh geez, you have to DO something with what you’ve just created. The characters have to… exist. And live. And breathe. And do something… interesting. Like, a plot or something. Right? NOOOOOOO!

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But how can they do that when you feel like you’re starting to write complete crap? Your creative resources are starting to flag, right? You’re feeling drained, maybe even a little resentful? Oh geez, ANOTHER night in front of this computer/notebook? I WANT A BREAK. (table flip, lots of screaming)

Here’s the thing: Most people who manage to survive and slog through Week Two end up “winning” NaNoWriMo. THIS IS A FACT, we see it every November. Maybe not with 50k words, but they manage to actually write most of the 30 days of the month, hit an admirable word count, AND they shockingly find they’ve built up so much momentum that they can keep going, even after the deadline of November 30th is over.

This phenomenon has been present since the beginning of NaNoWriMo, if you read the founder’s book, No Plot? No Problem! (by Chris Baty, this book seriously changed my writing life). I personally think there are scientific reasons surrounding this, related to what we know about habit-building and behavioral modification, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.

So, if it helps at all, if it gives you even the teeniest tiniest bit of motivation to hang on and keep going, despite the part of you screaming to just stop and give up, just think of it this way: if you survive week two, you’re probably going to “win” NaNoWriMo – whatever that means to you. And isn’t that kind of pretty awesome?

 

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.