Being an author is not as easy as everyone thinks it is. Well, I should say that being an author is not as easy as all nonauthors think it is. Everyone seems to think it’s easy to stay home staring at a document on a computer. I imagine some of them picture us sitting with a cup of a coffee in our hands and a pencil tucked behind one ear wearing nothing but our pajamas. However, what they don't realize is the toll that being an author can take on us. And NaNoWriMo almost doubles that impact. Just on a normal day of writing I will sometimes forget to eat or grab something to drink — but during NaNoWriMo? Forgetting to take care of myself is practically a certainty. Now, I've written before about how important self-care is for authors. But during NaNoWriMo, your self-care routines really need to be elevated to make up for the extra stresses and pressures.
Let's cover these tips:
- Be sure to pace yourself
- Step away from the story
- Don't fall into the comparison trap
- Remember it's okay to suck
- Don't forget to eat
- Don't forget to mingle
- Set up a schedule and stick with it
- Try to get some cake
- Keep your writing space clean
- Remember that you have a family and friends who love you
Be Sure to Pace Yourself
The excitement for NaNoWriMo starts building up long before November first. And for years I — and others like me — would sit up on Halloween night just waiting for midnight to hit so I could start pounding away at that keyboard. I used to see how long I could go for and how many words I could bang out before I passed out.
And I may or may not still do this from time to time.
I'll admit it, I like to front-load. Front-loading is when I try to do most of the writing during the first few days of NaNoWriMo so that I can take it a bit easier during the last week or so. Ten years ago, this was a great way for me to get through NaNoWriMo: it let me use my motivation and excitement at the beginning of the month to make up for Thanksgiving and burnout at the end of the month. Except that it was kind of like trying to sprint through a marathon — you get a pretty good head start, but you can't possibly keep up that pace all month long. And you can actually burn yourself out faster.
So now, I pace myself better. I split up my word count goal (50,000 words) into 4 weeks – 12,500 words per week. I want to make sure I have at least one day off per week, so I divide the remaining words by 6 days: 2,084 per day. If I am really on a roll, I may go over a bit, but I don't hit the computer trying to get it all done in that first week — and I am all the better for it.
Step away from the story
Notice how I said “I want to make sure I have at least one day off per week?” That ties directly into this tip — taking a break. I know, we don’t always want to take a break. Especially when we hit that stride and we're on a roll…words are flowing and we are watching that word count soar. Or our friends are inviting us to hop online for some word wars. But by taking regularly scheduled breaks you can avoid the burnout. The breaks can be short — like the time it takes to check the mailbox — or as long as you need. It's easier to prepare for — and therefore recover from — any writing time lost due to a scheduled break than it is to try to make up for the time lost due to burnout.
Plus, I don't know about you, but I get most of my best ideas when I'm doing something other than staring at my NaNoWriMo novel — like while I'm in the shower. Sometimes the perfect cure for Writer's Block is simply to step away.
So go. Go have dinner with your significant other, have a drink with your friends, play a board game with your kids. Do something — anything — other than writing. I mean, you don’t see judge’s ruling all the time, so why is it I see writers writing all the time?
Don't fall into the comparison trap
It never fails that every year I will go to post my beginning word count for the first day. And every year there will be dozens of people who posted way higher word counts than I did (some of them far higher than I could ever do). And every year there are dozens more who posted very small word counts — some even zeros. And without fail, several of those writers who posted small word counts start to let self-doubt seep in.
Don't do it. Stay in your own lane. Remember, you are running your own marathon, here. And the prize is going to be the same whether you finish on the 5th or on the 25th. You don't need to be worrying about what all those other writers are doing while they run their marathon — just take care of yourself and keep your worries on your own task.
Besides, we aren't posting our word counts because we want to brag or tell you that we're doing better than you are. We share them so we can get encouragement to keep going.
Remember it's okay to suck
NaNoWriMo is all about fast-drafting. And fast-drafting is all about getting words out of your mind and onto black and white. If you get hung up on choosing the exact right word to convey your message, or worry about choosing the exact right name to fit the character's personality, you're going to get yourself stuck.
Turning off your inner-editor is hard to do. It took me years to master this particular skill. But if you want to get through NaNoWriMo with your sanity in tact, then this is the best way to do it. If you are one of those writers who simply can't turn that inner-editor off, that's okay — maybe NaNoWriMo just isn't for you. Also okay. And if you happen to be one of those people who can fast draft with an inner-editor turned all the way on, well, then I salute you because that is definitely a skill I have not yet mastered.
Don't Forget to Eat
Although this tip seems pretty obvious, it’s actually one of the things I forget to do almost every day. Especially if I am on a roll — I will get riled up and fingers clacking away at the keyboard. And before I know it, it's dark outside and I realize that I haven't eaten in almost 18 hours.
Now, it hasn't been that bad since having children — but usually only because one of them will come and ask me for food. And then I'll simply eat with them. But if you aren't being followed by two hungry little minions who depends on your for sustenance, then you'll want to create reminders for yourself to stop and eat every once in a while.
Don't forget to mingle
NaNoWriMo has forums set up — which are great for asking questions and finding answers. But they're also great for making friends, swapping character ideas, brainstorming plots, and seeking tips and feedback from peers who get it. So take advantage of these. Check out those forums at least once a week. And you know what else? Sign up for a home region while you're at it. Not only will your home region have a forum of its own for you to post in, but you can plan events with your local writers: meet up for coffee, have a write-in at a local library, even host a kickoff event at a local restaurant.
Writing might not necessarily be a group activity, but meeting up with other writers who are doing the same thing as you can be encouraging and can sometimes give you just the extra push you need.
Set up a schedule and stick with it
By set up a schedule, I mean for everything, not just your writing. It's November, so I know what your goal is for writing — somewhere between 5 and 2,083 words per day. So your writing schedule is really going to depend on you and your circumstances. Perhaps you do better waking up before the sun and hammering out a bunch of words before your family gets up? Or maybe your motivation and creativity peak sometime in the afternoon? Whatever time it is that works best for you, schedule it and stick with it. This will make it easier for those people around you to stick with it as well.
But, that's not all you need to schedule.
Schedule time to do other things, whether those be household chores, work tasks, or even time spent reading with the kiddos. By having these things scheduled, people will be less likely to interrupt you while you're writing. And you'll be less likely to forget some of them.
And while you're at it, get some help taking care of some of those other responsibilities. You'll be able to breathe easier knowing that parts of your social media presence are being taken care of for you while you tackle these 50,000 words.
Try to get some cake
Because it's cake — do I really need to explain this?
Treat yourself every once in a while. I am a huge advocate for small celebrations. You finished that first chapter? Woohoo! Have some cake! Figured out that scene that was bothering you? Toast with champagne!! Wrote your first major fight scene? Only one thing to do with that — get up and dance.
I'm not kidding. Okay, maybe I'm kidding a little bit — I'd much rather have cake to celebrate than get up and dance. But hopefully you catch my meaning here. Even the smallest goals require discipline and hard work to achieve – and therefore they deserve your celebration. Don't hold back on patting yourself on the back just because you think it's not a big enough accomplishment. Take it from me, it is.
And besides, sometimes celebrating the smaller goals really helps get you motivated to tackle those bigger goals.
Keep your writing space clean
Okay, I'll admit — I happen to be one of those stereotypical writers — the ones who have piles and piles of scribbled notes on cluttered papers taking up room all over the house. Yea, that's me.
But not during November — go figure. In fact, every year during the last two weeks of October I make sure that my writing space is free and clear and organized. Clean notebooks so I can jot down new notes, pens within reach, a fresh flashdrive so I can run regular backups…all within reach and conveniently placed so I don't have to go hunting for them during November.
Remember that you have a family and friends who love you
Even though you may have warned your friends and family to stay away during the month of November so you could concentrate on NaNoWriMo, they might not always listen. And if your friends and family are anything like my friends and family, they are going to interrupt you constantly.
But when they do, take a deep breath and try to remember that they're bugging the hell out of you because they love and miss you. Honestly, unless there are extenuating circumstances, your friends and family want to see you finish up NaNoWriMo and win as much as you do. So go easy on them: answer their questions, go to lunch, then gently remind them of your schedule and pencil them in somewhere. By the time November is over, you'll be really glad you didn't alienate or scare them off.
Bonus Tip!! 11 – Don't Forget to Have Fun
That's what this whole thing has been about, right? Otherwise why would you put yourself through this? And why would you decide to do it all over again next year? NaNoWriMo isn't just about pumping out that novel in thirty days — it's about having fun while you do it. It's about meeting new people from around the world doing the same thing — giving each other support, feedback, and the complementary kick in the pants as needed to help everyone cross that finish line. And at the end of it all, you have much, much more than just a novel.
You have a unique yet shared experience with hundreds of thousands of authors at all stages of their career, new friends, and a deeper understanding of yourself and your limits.
And that is priceless.