Self-Care for NaNo and Beyond, Part One

One of the things I really love about the NaNoWriMo forums, website, and blog is that there are oodles of helpful and inspiring posts and tips about cultivating creativity under pressure. The topic of self-care during this high-pressure month is a topic I see pop up time and again, and I never get tired of seeing these posts. Why? Well . . . yes, I’m a grown@ss adult (no, really I am) but sometimes I forget to do the little things that, uh, keep me alive and functioning.

Since I know many of you are already charging toward that 50K goal, I will keep this post short and simple. I should mention here that any of the bullet-points in this post apply not just to NaNoWrimers, but to creative professionals under deadlines, to students facing down the battle that is pre-finals projects, and to people whose lives have suddenly crossed the border into Busytown.

What I’m offering in this post today is a checklist that, optimally, you’ll use 2-3 times within your waking hours. I personally use Google Docs or Sheets so I can check in from my phone, but this would work well printed or integrated with planning apps like Trello. I’ve even known writers to use their fitness trackers to ping them for the goals those particular apps are able to track. Without further ado, here are some things to remember as you wade/march/rocket/waddle into the fray:

NaNo Self Care: The Body Edition [editor’s note: stay tuned for Part 2 later this month!]

Here are some simple ways to not just survive NaNo, but to thrive in the process, and keep your body and mind in the game. Note, setting reminders/alarms for the time-based tasks, at least for the first few days, will help form these healthy habits. 

Drink a glass of water hourly. Hydration is everything. Without it, our bodies cannot do what they need to do to heal, process nutrients, allow us to THINK (and therefore, write).

Stretch or, if you are physically able to do so, get up at least once an hour. Physical activity–even something as simple as lifting your arms, readjusting your posture, or moving your legs where you sit–can wake up a sleepy writer, succeeding where caffeine fails. Take the bench, coffee–jazz hands, you’re up!

Every half hour, pause and take a few deep breaths. Often when we are in the creative flow, we forget even to blink, and our breathing can be shallow, affecting our oxygen levels. Breathing purposefully can refresh and reorient our systems, allowing for greater mental clarity.

Eat regular meals/snacks and stick to your normal meal routine as much as possible. If you can afford/manage quick meals and snacks (frozen meals, groceries delivered, PB&J sammiches, batch meals or snacks like soups that you can freeze or large bowls of popcorn you can portion out), this is ideal. Setting aside a couple of hours a week for meal planning and prep can save you hours in the long run, and give your mind fuel for cranking out those words!

Sleep!!! Keeping a regular sleep schedule, as much as possible, will work wonders for your ability to push through on days when you’re about ready to set your manuscript on fire then chuck it into the stratosphere. Even if you are getting less sleep than usual, staying on a schedule or at least allowing dedicated time to rest with purpose can make all the difference when fighting burnout.

Engage with others! Yes, this is a physical/body self-care bullet-point. Engagement with other beings, sentient or otherwise, can do wonders for grounding you, bringing you back down to earth. While participating in the chaos of the month can be exciting, speaking to your housemates/SO’s/online friends or petting your kit-cat/doggo/birb/snek animal pals helps you remember that you exist as a corporeal creature, not just a big, word-addled brain. If you are the kind of person who likes hugs and can find them, do it (even hug yourself if you have to)–nurturing your physical self with the affection of those around is recharging in a way that nothing else is.

So that’s that, folks. Take care of your body, and the mind will thrive. Here’s wishing you all happy writing–remember, you’ve got this!