NaNoWriMo can seem like a daunting task sometimes, for NaNo newbies and veterans alike. Fortunately, our NaNo Coaches are here to help guide you through November! Today, author Alexis Daria is here to share her advice on how to take care of yourself while you’re writing:
Welcome to Week 1 of NaNoWriMo! You’ve done it—you’ve declared your novel, maybe you’ve done some NaNoPrep, or some laundry to help you write by the seat of your pants all month, made some writing buddies, and now you’ve started getting words down.
Congratulations! You are now one step further than most people who say they want to write a novel. The reality is, most people say they want to write but never do. Starting is the hardest part—the activation energy required can be tremendous—so whether this is your first attempt or your 20th (Happy anniversary, NaNoWriMo!), I salute you.
Week 1 is marked by enthusiasm and excitement. Your mind whirls with inspiration. Your outline seems impervious to plot holes. You are on your way!
So let’s talk about how you maintain this momentum throughout the month. Writing advice seems to fall into two main categories: writing craft and writing life. However, I would argue that we can’t approach craft without also looking at how we take care of ourselves as creatives.
Before we discuss maintaining our own momentum, let’s talk about how to keep moving forward with your novel. If you find yourself feeling stuck, here are a few story tips you could try:
1. Raise the stakes.
What happens if your character fails at reaching their goal? If the answer is “nothing,” you want to raise the stakes. Why is success important to them? Not every story needs to be life or death—it could just be the emotional stakes that are high.
2. Increase the sense of urgency.
How? Give your characters a deadline of some sort. It doesn’t even have to be an overall story-level deadline. Whatever their current scene goal is, see if you can add a ticking clock. Maybe they’re going to the bank—but they have to get there before it closes! Will they make it in time? Now we have tension.
3. Ask WHY.
Focus on your character’s why. Why are they doing what they’re doing? Why do they want what they want? Dig into their past, their psyche. They lived a whole life before they showed up on your first page—use their past experiences to drive them through the story you’re telling now.
However, when we hit snags in our own lives, the writing stalls out, too. So let’s take a look at some ways we can maintain our own inner momentum:
1. Don’t ignore the basics.
Eat, sleep, drink water. It can be very tempting to let these fall by the wayside as you try to carve out time for writing, but I promise, if you maintain your basic needs, the writing will come easier.
2. No writer is an island.
Yes, much of the act of writing happens in solitude. But in between those long stretches of isolation, reach out to your writing buddies for motivation, especially if you feel stuck. Ask if you can talk out a story problem with them—and then return the favor. Attend an in-person write-in or join @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, which runs all month long. The beauty of NaNoWriMo is the community—make the most of it!
3. Keep a writing journal.
Every day, I write a short entry in my Scrivener doc about how the writing went. Some days I whine about the struggle, other days I’m pleasantly surprised by the creative flow. I find it helpful to be able to go back and see not just how many words I wrote per day, but how I was feeling and what else was going on in my life.
4. Keep what works and scrap the rest.
There’s a ton of writing advice out there (like this blog post), but I always recommend you take what works for you and discard the rest. For example, “write every day” is a common adage, but you might have a day job that doesn’t leave much time for creativity during the week. Don’t despair! Many writers are Weekend Warriors. Carve out a block of writing time on the weekends and do what you have to do to keep other obligations from interfering.
Don’t like write-ins? You don’t have to go. Don’t like word sprints? You don’t have to do them. Don’t overwhelm yourself by feeling like you need to do everything this month. Certainly be open to trying new things to see if you do like them, but don’t feel like you have to. There are no “rules,” and you’re not receiving a grade on this. Do what’s best for you. The real goal of NaNoWriMo is to support and foster your creativity and growth. If you spend any time at all exploring your creativity this month, I count that as a win!
One last note: 50,000-words might be the “goal,” but you haven’t “lost” or “failed” if you don’t reach that marker in one month. The number might seem scary or unattainable, but don’t let it stop you from trying to write something. Just write. Use the momentum and structure of NaNo to your benefit. Go easy on yourself and stay flexible in your process. And then see what you end up with on December 1st. I bet you’ll surprise yourself.
Alexis Daria is an award-winning contemporary romance author, former artist, and native New Yorker. Her debut, TAKE THE LEAD, was a 2018 RITA® Award winner for “Best First Book” and was named one of the Best Romance Novels of 2017 by The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly. She loves social media, and you can find her live-tweeting her favorite TV shows at @alexisdaria.
While it’s tempting to spend November closed off from the world at your writing desk (or couch, or bed, or floor), it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. Self-care is essential to the success of you and your story, so today writer Erin Townsend shares her tips for keeping your health in check:
NaNoWriMo is an exciting, exhausting, and rewarding experience. It’s a time to forgo social events and hole up in your writing space, over-caffeinated and under-rested. If you’re one of many who struggles to maintain your mental health, this environment can be especially taxing. How do you implement self-care habits like exercising, sleeping, and eating well when you’re having a hard enough time fitting in writing itself?
1. Be socially antisocial
It’s easy to forget that your writing space doesn’t have to be a dark, secluded room in your apartment. If you like background noise, try a nearby cafe, or even a bar or brewery. If you’re easily distracted, join your local NaNo group for write-ins at your library, or write at the library on your own; there’s free wifi, lots of books to pull inspiration from, and less noise.
2. Write in Nature
If you don’t want to be around people (I hear you), try writing outside! Find a park or open patio or a bench under a tree. Hike a notebook to a nearby vista, and write at the top. Being surrounded by nature reduces stress levels, and scenery is inspiring. You might get some exercise at the same time!
3. Get Enough Sleep
From one night-owl to another: it’s tempting to stay up until dawn getting that daily word count in. Don’t get into the habit of doing this! If you’re feeling inspired, stop a scene in the middle so you’ll have inspiration left for tomorrow. Keep a notebook by your bed for writing down ideas to expand on later. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health.
4. Moderate Caffeine
Too much caffeine can ramp up your anxiety levels and make you less productive. If you’re looking for something warm and comforting to ease you through writing, try tea. Ride-or-die coffee fanatic? Swap for decaf. You can make your favorite cup o’ joe a reward for hitting a certain word count, maybe half the daily amount, and use it to power through the rest.
5. Meal Plan
With all your spare time devoted to writing, it can be hard to maintain a healthy relationship with food during the NaNo season. Why spend hours in the kitchen when you can order Domino’s in five minutes? Combat the temptation with freezer-friendly soups, stews, and other meals, prepared ahead of time. Stock up on frozen fruits and veggies to have at the ready. Compile a list of cheap and easy recipes: sheet pan dinners, one-pot pastas, or minute-rice dishes. Don’t forget about the magic of the crock pot, if you have one. A little planning goes a long way.
6. Limit Social Media
Stay off your phone. People will be taking selfies at bars, sharing snaps of concerts, and inviting you to events that you don’t have time for. If you need to wind down, read a few chapters of your favorite book. Not only is it less stressful, but it can inspire your writing. Work on a crossword. Listen to some music. You can catch up on the news later.
7. Know When to Take a Break
The point of NaNoWriMo is to let the words flow, but if they’re not coming to you, don’t sit in front of a blank page and beat yourself up about it. Take a walk, cook something, spend a few minutes on a secondary hobby, or meet a friend for a drink. Sometimes stepping away from the writing and letting go of that stress is when inspiration strikes.
Erin Townsend writes from New Haven, Connecticut, where she co-organizes a writing and audience feedback series entitled Local Lit @ Lotta. Her work has received the Jennie Hackman Award for Short Fiction and has been published in the Long River Review. Currently she is working on her first short story collection. In her spare time, when she isn’t traveling around with her partner, Erin reads books about space and drinks weird beer.