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Category: Writing

Strategies for Handling NaNoWriMo and Depression

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Hoo boy. Now here is a lofty goal that has defeated many a writer. 50,000 words in 30 days? That is a LOT! In my last post about writing with depression I talk about starting slow, starting with a sentence a day until you build up to a habit of 1000 words a day. With NaNoWriMo that isn’t possible. You need to hit the ground running with 1667 words a day. So let’s see how we can modify my earlier suggestions into something workable by looking at ‘meal size’, community support, and mental health.

Meal Size

Many Small Meals – 1667 words a day is more than what a lot of professional authors put out, so it is a big ask. That’s a few hours of writing even for fast writers. 1667 words is like a whole Thanksgiving meal. It is a lot of food to shovel into your mouth at once. So if that number sounds intimidating, we need to break out the knife and fork and carve it into smaller, bite sized chunks. If you are already struggling to write, and can’t sit down and slam out 1667 words in a single writer session, break it into bites. 1667 words is 4 smaller sessions of 417 words each. That’s a paragraph or two, depending on your style of writing. You could break that down even further and do a few sentences at a time, 8 sessions of 208 words each. Think small, write often. Do a little, a lot. Before you know it, you’ll have 1667 words.

Binge Eating – Some writers (myself included) find it easier to get the writing done in as small a time period as possible. This is where sprints come in. You write as many words as possible in a defined period of time. Sprint for 10 minutes, 15, 20, and see how many words you can write. There are plenty of places you can find sprints – On the NaNo forums, in writing groups, on Twitter and Instagram. And the best part – You aren’t the only one doing the sprints! You write alongside other people, with some gentle competition. That can help, if that sort of thing motivates you.

Community Support

The best part about NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is the community support. Strangers cheer you on, you can make new friends at local meet ups, there are those virtual sprints on social media. It’s great! So take advantage of it! Seek out the NaNoWriMo community and join in on the fun.

I personally find it super motivating to not be writing along in the dark. It can make the mountain feel a little less steep when you are part of a group pulling towards the same goal. Here are some places where you can find NaNoWriMo communities.

  1. https://forums.nanowrimo.org/ The OG site, filled with lots of resources and places to brainstorm and chat about your ideas. 
  2. https://forums.nanowrimo.org/c/regions/81/none NaNoWriMo Local regions. These subsections of the forum are organized by area. A lot of the regions have Discord channels and/or local write-ins (where you meet up and all write together). See if your area has a local support group!
  3. https://www.worldsmyths.com/ /https://discord.gg/bSc64bbnkr Shameless self promo here! We have a Discord server focused on speculative fiction (though other genres are welcome!) with dedicated NaNoWriMo channels. The best part? We are active year-round! The excitement and camaraderie doesn’t end as soon as December arrives, like on the NaNo forums. 
  4. https://4thewords.com/ Does gametization get you moving? Then 4theWords might be for you! Write words to defeat monsters and get rewards. Dress your avatar and participate in the huge monthly questline focused on NaNoWriMo. My referral code is ETFCY69776 if you want some rewards!

Mental Health

How do you keep yourself healthy while pursuing a lofty goal? There are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Food and Water → Words need fuel! Regular meals and hydration will go a long way in keeping your head clear.
  2. Exercise → No, you don’t need to go climb a mountain. My counselor recommends three minutes a day where your heart rate is about 90 bpm. That’s less than a song’s worth of activity. Some sit ups, a few flights of stairs, anything that gets you out of your chair and moving. Follow it up with 5 minutes of mindfulness. Focus on your senses for a few moments, what can you feel, smell, hear? Let your mind stay in the present for just a few minutes to center yourself.
  3. Forgiveness → Some days 1667 words might not happen. Forgive yourself and try again tomorrow. Full stop. Forgive yourself. Life happens, and worry is misuse of the imagination. Don’t get bogged down by missing words and focus on the next day. Eyes forward!

As always, these are things that have helped me. You have to find your own path forward, but I hope this post helped!

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How to Start Writing Again While Depressed

Hi. My name is Freya Bell, and I have officially been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I am also a writer and a publisher. In this blog post I will share my strategies for writing while depressed. We will look at setting goals, keeping forward momentum, and strategies.

Goals

Picture it. You are climbing a mountain. A steep mountain. It just rained, so the trail is gone, replaced with mud. On your back is a pack filled with cement and hunks of rock. You want to sit down in the mud and wait it out. But you don’t. You keep putting one step in front of the other because at the top of the mountain is something you want. A publishing contract, a finished novel or short story. An inspirational blog post. 

You want to reach that peak, so you keep sludging through the mud. But it seems so far away, and some days the mud comes up to your waist and it takes all your energy just to keep standing, let alone to keep moving forward. 

This is where goals come in. No, not the big goals at the top of the peak. Smaller goals. Lower that bar for yourself. No, lower. There you go. Set yourself a goal of a single sentence. That’s it. This isn’t your lofty goal, but it is a handhold to pull yourself up a little higher on the mountain. A single sentence, you can do that. A single sentence and you are done for the day. Close your notebook or word processor. 

When times are dark, you don’t need to put more pressure on yourself by forcing it. If you are a reward driven person, reward your efforts. Congratulate yourself. You did the thing! Which takes us directly into our next point.

Keep the Momentum Going

Keep writing your sentence a day until it feels less painful. This may take a few days, it may take weeks. Be patient with yourself. Let your feelings guide you. No, not the depression voice telling you to sit down and let the mud flow over you. I’m talking about that frail little voice that congratulates you when you write your one sentence. It is in there and it is worth learning to hear it.

So a few days or a few weeks have passed, and you’ve written your sentences, and it’s starting to feel natural. It’s time to stretch, to reach for a handhold a little further away than a sentence. A paragraph. That’s just a few sentences stitched together. Reach, and do a paragraph a day for a few days or a few weeks until it feels less intimidating.

Do not stretch too far too fast!. This warning comes from personal experience. I’ll have a good day. The depression voices are on mud, the mud only seems as deep as the soles of my shoes, and the sun is shining. I overcommit. I say ‘one paragraph, one schmaragraph, I’m going to write 1000 words a day from now on.’ I bash the words out, I maybe even maintain it for a couple days. But the inevitable happens. I have a bad mental health day. The mud surges up to my knees and I stumble. That handhold of 1000 words might as well be on Mars. I fail to write 1000 words and the depression voices pounce, chanting ‘failure failure failure’. I’m back at square one, and even a sentence feels impossible.

Phew, that got a little personal. But take my experience as a warning. Be gentle with yourself. Go as slow as you need to. You have to walk before you can run. So pace yourself, build up to a higher goal over time (be that a few days or even months). Expand from a sentence to a paragraph to a page to X words a day.

Strategies

Successes – Celebrate them! Say them out loud, tell a friend! Because they are successes, from a sentence to 1667 words a day (NaNoWriMo is coming up!). Try keeping a record of your successes so you can see how far you’ve come. A checklist, a spreadsheet, a jar full of skittles. However you track is up to you. Remember, you are in control of this process. You are! When the mud is high and the mountain steep it may not feel like you are in control, but you are the only person who can tell your story. So keep at it, one word at a time.

Backsliding – Whether it is from overreaching or from external influences, we all have bad days where reaching for the pen or keyboard feels like your arms are filled with lead. So there’s the secret – There is no such thing as backsliding. The words aren’t going anywhere. You aren’t losing your place on the mountain. You’ve still made progress towards your goal. Depression can’t take your progress away from you.

So what do you do when it feels like you are falling backwards? You accommodate. If you pull a muscle you wouldn’t try and run a marathon. Try a walk around the block instead. If you’ve been writing 1000 words a day, drop down to a page or a paragraph or a sentence. You get to keep the momentum going while allowing the bad day to happen. Because bad days do happen. Don’t let those depression voices pile mud on you.

Conclusion

This is what works for me. It might not work for you, and that’s okay. But give it a try. You might learn something.

The above chart is something I made for myself to remind myself how fast words turn into achieved goals. This is based on a 90k novel, but it illustrates the concept. Try it out. Got a 5k story to write? It will be done in no time at all!

Your goals are achievable. The mountain and the mud slow you down, but they can’t stop you. You CAN reach the peak and achieve what you want if you:

  1. Take it slow
  2. Pay attention to your comfort levels
  3. Are forgiving with yourself.

I would say good luck, but this isn’t about luck. It is about perseverance and goal setting, and you CAN do it.

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