A little bit of a different post today but as it’s over the halfway point of NaNoWriMo now and I’m mostly to be found squirrelled away with my laptop I thought that I’d share some practical tips about how to help you through NaNoWriMo if you’re attempting it too. Similarly, if you frequently write a lot, be it for work or school or for your own blog, then these tips may be of use to you as well. In case, you didn’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every year in the month of November; allowing budding novelists of all ages and backgrounds to come together and write a first draft of their novel. You can find out more info about it on their website www.nanowrimo.org
I’m not going to share many writing tips in this post because I feel that everyone has their own process that works for them and at the end of the day there is no right or wrong way. Besides, because of my personal circumstances, I don’t use NaNoWriMo in the traditional sense of starting a novel completely from scratch and aiming to complete the first draft by the end of the month, but rather as a way of making more headway on a work in progress. So I can’t really comment on how you can “win” at NaNoWriMo. The one tip I will give though is simply, write! Get those words out, even if you think they are utter rubbish. Write something every day. Even if you don’t hit the daily word count or your personal target for that day you’ll still have more words than if you don’t write anything.
Anyway, here are some more practical things that I’ve learnt from my two years of doing NaNoWriMo to help it go a little more smoothly for you. In particular, some tips on how to look after your health whilst you’re typing away.
Don’t cut yourself off from other sources of inspiration
It can be so tempting to shut yourself off when writing your novel, not wanting to be influenced by other things and be immersed in that world but don’t shut yourself off from other sources of inspiration. They can actually help your writing rather than hinder it. Continue to read, go to the theatre, watch films, tv programmes or documentaries. Go out and people watch. Observe the way people interact with one another. Study their mannerisms. Visit different locations. All these things can only inspire more ideas and help you to create more rounded characters, and ultimately help you to up that word count.
Be prepared for inspiration to strike at any time
Whether that be a new idea, a chunk of dialogue or your protagonist starts rambling on at you (that doesn’t just happen to me, does it?). This can happen sometimes when you least expect it and most likely when you’re not at your desk trying desperately to conjure something up. Mine seems to become particularly vocal when I’m brushing my teeth for some reason. I really recommend getting it down in note form as soon as you possibly can, be that by always having a notepad handy, a note-taking app on your phone or adding a comment to your manuscript, whatever you have to hand at that moment. Because chances are if you leave it and hope that you’ll recall it later on you might not always remember.
Look after your mental health
Writing a novel can be like baring your soul and incredibly cathartic. Especially if you are writing according to that old saying “write what you know.” Recalling certain memories or feelings to draw from and capture in writing can be draining and leave you feeling raw. Catharsis can be good, healing even but just try to be mindful of how those feelings are creeping into your world outside of your novel. Because just as the real world can affect your book world, your book world can affect your real world. Be mindful of whether the emotions you are conjuring up affect your day or your relationships with others. Allow yourself to feel those emotions and let the writing heal you but also be gentle with yourself. Self-care is really important. Get into a good sleep routine and take time to do things that you enjoy to help stabilise your mood and help you separate fiction from reality.
Similarly, if you are giving yourself a hard time because you haven’t hit your targets, feel what you’re writing isn’t up to scratch, or you have a severe case of writer’s block. Try not to berate yourself too much or let it drag you down for too long. Give yourself a little pep talk or talk to other writers taking part who can help you feel like what you’re feeling is totally normal. Take some time out. Use those other forms of inspiration. But ultimately, tell yourself that you are doing the best that you can in that moment. Tomorrow is another day and NaNoWriMo is a marathon, not a sprint.
Look after your muscles
Spending hours a day at a computer or writing by hand can be tough on the old muscles. Especially, if you work with computers too. Or you particularly feel the effects of the colder months (if you live in the Northern hemisphere). Those neck and shoulder muscles can really start to ache. Likewise, you might also notice more pain in your fingers and wrists; especially if you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. As someone who lives with chronic pain anyway, I have to be particularly mindful of my pain levels. But that also means I have a good understanding of ways to help relieve those aches. The biggest thing to help prevent any aches is to make sure that you are comfortable and that the muscles or joints that you find problematic are well supported. This could mean using ergonomic equipment, such as specially designed chairs or keyboards. Or using wrist supports. In terms of treating the aches, heat is your best friend. Immerse yourself in a warm bath, add some Epsom salts for extra muscle relaxing properties, use a wheat pillow which you heat up in the microwave, or my particular best friend, an electric heat pad. Magnesium is also amazing for relieving muscular pain or spasms. I use the Better You Magnesium Oil Spray, which is really fast acting; just put a little moisturiser on the top of it as it can sting a tiny bit. And if possible, I also recommend booking yourself in for a back, neck and shoulder massage or hot stone massage, as a much-needed treat for your body and mind.
Watch those headaches
Tension headaches can be all too common when your muscles are tense from staring at a computer screen for hours on end. Added to the glare from the screen. So be sure to take regular breaks, where you’re not looking at any screens. It might also be worth adjusting the brightness on your screen. If you need glasses be sure to wear them. Or if you are getting frequent headaches it might be worth going for an eye test just to be sure they’re not caused by problems with your vision. Supporting and treating the muscles in your neck and shoulders can help to relieve headaches. But you might also find a cold compress across your forehead beneficial. Or an ointment like Tiger Balm. Putting heat on your feet, from a foot bath or heat pad can also help draw blood away from your head to help relieve any pressure.
I hope that these tips come in handy if you are doing NaNoWriMo, writing or blogging regularly or similarly if you are having to write a lot of essays. And I wish the very best of luck with your novel if you are doing NaNoWriMo. Keep up that good work and let me know how you are getting on in the comments. Similarly, please do share your own tips in the comments too.