Editor’s Note: Each year, nearly 500,000 writers all over the world dedicate themselves to completing NaNoWriMo, a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words. This year, author and first-time participant Lou Paduano will document his experience This is the third installment of his journey. Catch the first post here and second post here.
NaNoWriMo offers a unique experience when crafting a manuscript.
A no-nonsense, 30-day writing marathon for 50,000 words. Or more, if you’re an insane overachiever like me.
If you’re a NaNoWriMo virgin like myself, you may not be used to the challenge of crafting content for 30 straight days. The daily word count you are used to might be less than half of what is needed to meet your NaNo goal.
The quick pace for extended hours, the constant turnaround of getting chapters done,the push to write beyond what you typically handle on any given day…it’s like deciding on a career in cross country running and starting with ten miles on the first day. (I feel winded just TYPING that.)
So what happens halfway through the month when you haven’t trained for a marathon?
Mental exhaustion, especially if unprepared for the challenge of crafting a novel-length draft, can set in quickly.
Preparation is a good means of combating this at the start, but given the number of hours being put in on a single narrative or goal, feeling exhausted at the very sight of the computer screen is not out of the realm of possibilities.
If you’ve stared at the screen long enough, knowing what the next scene is meant to convey but without a clue how to proceed means you’ve probably run out of mental juice. And coffee.
Burnout can also bring her ugly step-sister to the party as well…
2. Lack of motivation
Burnout can leave you feeling depressed over a less than productive day. Even a couple of days. This feeling mounts up, building and building with each disappointing day.
Struggling for days without a victory when working on your draft can lead to a complete loss of motivation, a malaise and a perceived discontent when it comes to the work still ahead.
Not hitting your goals is a clear sign something has gone awry. But don’t walk away! There is no quitting here.
There is a way to combat these issues before they start to mount.
Build a reward system into the month
Need a reason to keep writing? Need to feel there is something waiting for you at the end of the 50,000-word journey ahead? (Besides a completed draft, of course.)
Create it for yourself.
When scheduling the month of November, I set up certain rewards at different milestones throughout the month. Drafting can be a slog, especially without a clear roadmap or when just starting out.
Setting up some small prizes to be unlocked at key word counts or chapter markers can act as both motivation to continue and as a breather from the challenge.
How to reward yourself without forgoing the work completely
1. Start small
Give yourself a short break between chapters to allow for some processing time.
This can give you a place to start the next hurdle and cut down on the dreaded “staring at the computer screen” moments, hoping for inspiration to strike. Here are a few ideas:
- Go for a walk. Get some fresh air and some Vitamin D for crying out loud. Not too much…you’ll probably burn easily, even in November, after all your time locked in your writing cave. Decompress from your writing and let your mind work on the problem in the background while you recharge.
- Visit your family. Maybe have a meal with them. They appreciate that kind of thing.
- Take a 10-minute snooze — but keep it to 10 minutes! Let your mind relax before jumping into the next chapter.
2. Choose weekly rewards
It’s simple: Hit your goal every day for a week or meet the goal by the end of the week and win a prize. Make it something worth working toward; something that will motivate you every time you’re thinking about walking away from the computer early.
How about a dinner out with family or friends? Getting out of the house gives you a chance to leave the work behind, without it looming over you from the other room.
My personal choice? A night off from writing. Not a full day, but just a few hours at night to take in a movie or binge on that ever-expanding streaming queue.
3. Spoil yourself: determine “The Big Ones”
Set up two big rewards for the month — one at the midpoint and one at the finish line.
Schedule them ahead of time so there is no way to convince yourself to forget about them. These are important breaks for your mental health and the sanctity of the work you’ve been busting your hump on all month.
What could they be?
For me, I like to go big with a full day off from writing. For you, it might be a morning where you sleep in. Maybe you schedule a long drive or an overnight somewhere.
You could take in a movie – this November offers many excellent choices, from Doctor Strange (my own mid-point reward) to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Or if you want to bring the kids along (even though you know you want to see it anyway) there is always Moana. Your big rewards should pull you out of your world and into another for at least a few hours.
One rule: No talking about your work!
Whatever you choose to make your rewards, make it clear right from the start so everyone knows. (Including yourself.) These are your rewards and you’re definitely entitled to them after the work put in over the course of November.
Enjoy them and the writing you’ve done!
Week three results
With the month half gone and most of my rewards already given, it’s time to hunker down and power through to the finish line. Here’s what I was able to accomplish in week three of my first NaNoWriMo challenge.
- Word Count – 1,808
- Notes – I had my first “Oh, crap, where the hell am I” moment today. I sat down to work and had no clue where to start. Definitely recovered by the end of the night but it took some pages to get the juices flowing again.
- Word Count – 3,481
- Notes – A nice rebound from yesterday. Went into a chapter I knew inside and out to get back into things and finished the day with a stronger moment than I had originally envisioned.
- Word Count – 6,750
- Notes – BABYSITTER DAY. I won’t be hitting that benchmark again, for sure! I had a plan going into the morning and it steamrolled from there. Felt insanely good to get some critical chapters done and to see them finally on the page.
- Word Count – 2,116
- Notes – An unexpected family dinner and yard work to prepare for Buffalo’s first snowfall threw me for a loop today. Only one chapter done and it was broken up into three different writing sessions. Break out the red pen on this one, I’m thinking.
- Word Count – 4,914
- Notes – Three big sequences left! I wanted to nail one down today and one tomorrow so I picked what I thought would be the easier of the two. I. WAS. WRONG. It’s done now but I fell below my estimates on every chapter and I think the action in each piece fell flat. Nuts.
- Word Count – 5,760
- Notes – A much better day. The second of the three major sequences left in The Medusa Coin flowed insanely better than yesterday’s slog. And I get the night off. Woohoo!
- Word Count – 1,743
- Notes – A rough afternoon with stalled progress turned into a productive evening. Instead of following my plan for the day I found another chapter I was more prepared to draft and went from there. Very glad I did. 7,000 words and 6 chapters left. I am finishing this beast by Thursday!
What are your favorite rewards to keep you motivated? Let me know in the comments below.