NaNoWriMo go go go? Don’t forget to enjoy novel writing

National Novel Writing Month focuses you on the word count: a great way to get you through the troughs. But don’t forget –  it’s not just a chore!

Enjoy your writing

Enjoy it! It’s supposed to be you, in your groove.

When I did novel-writing month last year, I found at a certain point I was starting to sacrifice the happy things in my life just to get the novelling done. Yoga? Exercise? Friendship? Stand aside, I’ve got a novel to write!

Listen and learn: How I wreck creative processes

I do that with every creative project: go from loving it, to killing my love of it. How? I stop living in order to accomplish it.

Why? Two reasons.

  1. Fear/exhilaration. It’s half driven by a kind of panic, which is also exhilaration, that if I don’t just get it all down now it’ll disappear. This is also called impatience. A lack of faith in your future self. Your talents will still be there after a break!
  2. Addiction to accomplishment. And it’s half a kind of obsessive determination which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I can stop wasting any time. But as my focus becomes sharper and sharper, and – in the case of NaNoWriMo – hitting the word count became an addictive little ‘score’ in my day – I tend to bail out of my usual routines. You know, the things that make me sane and livable with, like attending a yoga class, breathing and looking attractive. It’s a kind of workaholism, really, where one kind of accomplishment becomes your only high.

The price: when you live badly, you give yourself a hard time about it

Trouble is, when you stop doing the things that keep you happy, (out of fear that you don’t have time, usually), you then have to work even harder creatively to drown out the part of yourself that’s giving you a bollocking for neglecting yourself. You put pressure on the creativity. You space around the creation clutters up with mindcrap.

Does living well really take much time? 

I drew this page in my notebook to get me back on track when I was veering off course.

Breaks notebook page

Certain activities take you right out of the writing zone. For me, most internet stuff fails to refresh and bursts the creative bubble. But these things don’t. © Laura Eades 2012

A little explanation of these 14 things that could help you stay alive while chanelling your muse.

  1. 5 mins of yoga. Nothing fancy! Just stretch your shoulders or something, while you look out the window. Lie on your back on the carpet and feel your spine. Breathe into the crunchy parts of your ossifying writer’s skeleton.
  2. Listen to a hypnotherapy recording. I love this stuff, you can really occupy the space of anxiety by filling your unconscious with treacle. Go on iTunes and look for an ego-strengthening self-hypnosis app. You can listen for five minutes even if you’re in a Starbucks in Oxford Circus. Nobody needs to know you are telling yourself you are greatest motherf&cker anyone’s ever gonna meet*. (Gratuitous swearing explanation below)
  3. Breathing exercises. Not like, as if going into labour. More like, a little mindful minute of – what? the simplest possible meditation: watching your breath come into your body, and leave it, just coming away from your screen and realising that you’re still a living human being.
  4. Lie on the floor and do a hypnosis. There are lots of ways of relaxing into a little hypnotic ‘trance’ and then telling yourself something your unconscious needs to hear – something positive and personal and compassionate. Usually they involve slowing down your breathing, or staring at a point on the ceiling. Trance isn’t a big mystery – that’s something you experience a lot more often than you realise. For example, when you’re in between waking and sleeping. Read more here.
  5. Simple diary. Have you discovered Keele’s Simple Diary? You can get it as an app or in a book form. It’s a lovely lateral-thinking kind of way of humourously checking in with yourself, some kind of mad cross between the i Ching and a riddle, without emerging from your creative flow into full-on self-analysis. And you hardly have to actually write a thing.
  6. Update your charts. On the NaNo site. But do you have any other charts? I frickin love squared paper and little graphs. Wee! Ever play schools when you were a child just so you could spend ages making a register and then ticking it? (Was that really just me?) Sometimes I make a parallel one, with things like Eating Mindfully and Connecting with Friends on it. Just to remind myself that hitting work targets isn’t the only kind of accomplishment.
  7. Read a Mindfulness. I meant, when I wrote this: Read a page from Simon Parke’s lovely One-Minute Mindfulness book. But you could equally, if you’re disciplined about your internet usage, read a blog page like this one, or one of the great pep talks from NaNoWriMo.
  8. Have something to eat or drink away from your desk. Just step away. You’re impatient, but the ideas won’t stop just because you enjoy your sandwich. Jeez.
  9. Go to an exercise class. You booked it. You cleared your diary for it. You always go on a Monday night. This Monday night is no different. Do your usual routine – you’ll be surprised how your sanity is anchored to it.
  10. Put on some music. & dance. Or sway. Who am I to tell you when to dance? I just like the idea, OK?
  11. Draw something. I’d love to think I do this in my breaks, but in reality, this suggestion to myself is sheer bunkum. I never draw anything when I’m writing, except diagrams and timelines. But maybe you should. Set the egg timer and dash of a quick Shrigley masterpiece. Post it to me. I’d like to see it.
  12. Change location. Like, morning writing in the living room, afternoon in a cafe. Don’t get tempted to choose somewhere that takes half a day to travel to. Morning in the 19th arrondissement, afternoon in a grungy Berlin cafe. Only in your dreams.
  13. Have a little nap. yeah. Allow yourself.
  14. Finally, not on my list above: Stay connected. Believe me, you can afford to see your friends (I did NaNoWriMo almost exclusively when my daughter, who was 1, slept – maximum four hours a day).

* That’s a John Grant lyric that I’m addicted to, sorry. Have a listen, it’s a break in itself.

Other stuff that helps writing stay enjoyable

Here’s what my notebook says:

  • Plan your day
  • Plan your breaks
  • Split your writing into chunks
  • Do something special and satisfying to make each part really good (I meant when I wrote that: go into a bit of detail about a character’s appearance, or let them speak a little, or let them rant about something that you hate in your life, or let them crack a joke – give yourself a little playful time with each part)
  • Alternate between different kinds of task: Writing stuff that’s necessary for plot; haircutting huge swathes of text (dunno why I wrote that, that’s more for editing really); dialogue; adding character detail…
  • Don’t listen to your inner critic
  • Things aren’t instantly perfect so ACCEPT

Good luck. Keep it fun.

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How’s your novelling going? Click on the grey dot below the blogpost to open up the comment thread. I’d love to hear from you.