NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can be a fun, crazy, chaotic time. Writing 50,000 words in one month is a big undertaking, especially if you have a lot of other things going on in your life, so self-care is crucial.
What does “self-care” really mean? It’s about more than just face masks and binging Netflix (though those are valid forms of it, too). It’s about taking care of your mental health.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed during NaNoWriMo, but the right preparation, mindset, and self-care practices can help you avoid that and enjoy the process as much as possible.
Here are self-care tips for writers to help you avoid overwhelm NaNoWriMo.
Other posts you may like:
- 11 Self-Care Ideas for Writers and Creatives
- 5 Ways to Avoid Losing Motivation When Writing a Novel
- How to Win at the Mental Game of Writing
Self-Care for Writers During NaNoWriMo
Create a reward system
Holding out for the “big win” of whatever goal you’re trying to achieve (like finishing the first draft of your novel or winning NaNoWriMo) before celebrating prolongs a feeling of satisfaction and appreciation for your effort.
So, try this: give yourself little things to look forward to by setting up a reward system for smaller milestones that lead up to your larger goal. That way, it’s not just about reaching your destination. When you make a point to celebrate milestones along the way, it helps you develop an appreciation for the journey itself and enjoy it a lot more because you aren’t holding out a long time for that one big “win.” You’re acknowledging your progress and how far you’ve come as you advance.
In my printable writing goals planner bundle, I included a section for milestones and their corresponding goals because this is such an effective way to keep you feeling motivated and positive throughout your journey.
For NaNoWriMo, you could reward yourself every time you write 10,000 words. Rewards can be things like a book or a pair of shoes that you want, a trip to the spa or an at-home spa night, having a cozy movie night, or ordering your favorite takeout. What feels special to you?
Take a look at your schedule for November and identify any days where you know you likely won’t have time to write. What events, special occasions, and prior commitments will take a lot of your time and energy?
Then, plan ahead on what days you can put aside for writing.
Also, take a look at your regular daily schedule and think about what time of day will be the best for you to fit in writing sessions. Is there anything you need to move around or put on hold for the month so you’ll have time for writing instead?
Mapping all of this out ahead of time will help you face less overwhelm once November comes because you’ll already have a plan of action in place.
Build-in time for rest & relaxation
It’s easy to fall into the “all or nothing” mentality that claims if you aren’t working toward your goal 24/7, then you aren’t working (or hustling) “hard enough.” The truth is, this kind of mentality will only run you ragged and have you constantly trading your health for a future goal. And there will always be another future goal.
You can — and should — enjoy your life along the way. Give yourself permission to relax; this will not only improve your health and quality of life, but it will also improve your quality of work.
You may feel resistance to this at first because of all of the things we’ve been taught about “no pain, no gain” and hustling. But you can work hard and challenge yourself without pushing yourself to dangerous limits.
Literally schedule time into your days to relax and do something that brings you joy. These things are just as important as eating, sleeping, and working toward the dream of finishing your novel because your life is happening right now.
Be kind to yourself
When these pop up, change the narrative. Instead of treating yourself like an angry drill sergeant or mean-spirited authority, treat yourself like a friend. How would you talk to them if they were feeling what you were feeling? Would you belittle them or be kind and cheer them on?
Be mindful of your inner dialogue, practice encouraging self-talk, and give yourself grace through this process.
You are taking on an amazing challenge in order to devote time to something that matters to you. That alone is a HUGE accomplishment. Any words you write are a big win and even if you don’t reach the 50k in those 30 days, you will have practiced committing to your project and your dreams.
Accept what is out of your control
We can do all sorts of things to prepare for the month ahead and give ourselves our best chance at success, but then, we have to release our expectations.
If there’s one truth in life, it’s that we can’t control it. Things you couldn’t anticipate can suddenly throw a monkey wrench in your plans and get in the way of the time you set aside to write or throw you off your game if it’s physically, mentally, or emotionally taxing.
Again, this is part of giving yourself grace. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and surrender to what is out of your hands.
Self-care exercises for your mental health
If you’re under a lot of stress (and let’s face it, who isn’t in 2020?), taking care of your mental health is crucial. Here are some self-care practices that will help you release tension and center yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Meditation — A daily meditation practice is helpful for exercising your ability to become mindful of your inner dialogue and physical cues when anxiety is approaching. Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about developing the ability to observe your thoughts in a non-reactive, productive way. Even just ten minutes a day (such as when you’re laying in bed in the morning or right before you go to sleep at night) makes a big difference. My favorites are guided meditations, such as the ones from Calm or Headspace.
- Grounding exercises — When you start to feel overwhelmed, a grounding exercise can help you stop from spiraling. You can do a breathing exercise, such as the box breathing technique (inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat), or the 5 things technique (name five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.)
- Move your body — Physical activity has been proven to be linked to our mental health. Taking some time every day to move your body can help relieve tension and anxiety. Even just taking a walk, doing yoga (especially after sitting at the computer to write for long periods of time), or dancing around to your favorite music will get the endorphins flowing.