NaNoWriMo – A Lesson in Self-Care

As creatives, one of the things we don’t do enough of (or often enough) is practice conscious and intentional self-care – myself included!

More often than not, we tend to get so into the projects that we’re producing that we let the important things (like eating, showering, exercising, resting, socializing, etc) fall by the wayside. Being engulfed in your latest project is almost a magical experience, no?

It’s a lot like falling in love. You feel a rush of excitement every time you sit down at your computer to draft the next chapter of that novel or open up InDesign. You want to spend every waking moment pursuing this thing that makes you feel more alive than you’ve ever known. Your face lights up and your heart quickens when mentioning your project to friends or family or random strangers on the street.

You may even find it hard to focus on much else because your mind is far too occupied on this new (or renewed) love in your life.

This is all fine and good. Frankly, it’s one of the most thrilling experiences a creative can experience. We thrive on feelings like that, when our art comes alive to us and in turn, causes us to become more alive.

Engaging with our art can be a bit of self-care in itself, right? Absolutely.

In fact, that’s part of the subject of today’s post.

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for the initiated) is a 30-day challenge to produce 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo since 2007, so I have a bit of experience in the subject. The years that I’ve participated have been wonderful and full of ups and downs – years that I “won” by hitting the 50k mark (or beyond), years that I didn’t reach the mark, one year that I didn’t even come close!

But I’ve learned something from each of these years of experience – my hope for this post is to help you implement some of these self-care practices I learned through NaNoWriMo into your daily creative life – you deserve it!


The beauty of NaNoWriMo is the fact that it enables participants to let go of the natural inhibitions that we as creatives face for long enough to just get the words down. We create these beautiful, messy masterpieces in a frenzy to keep up with our daily wordcount goals (and of course to brag about meeting said goals) and in the process, forget that what we are doing is supposed to be one of the most difficult endeavors to pursue.

This rush, along with writing alongside thousands of other writers around the world and locally, helps us to continue with the crazy intensity of 1,667 words a day. At that rate, you literally don’t have room to have inhibitions! You’re main goal is to create, create, create and not let anything get in your way.

I love this. I love being in the throes of creation and not having my inner editor badger me about what I’m doing.

What I’ve also learned is inhibitions are often the fancy, dressed up versions of fear.

Now fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it can be a guiding entity that is a natural companion in any creative’s life.

The thin line we walk, however, is that while fear can elicit positive reactions from us, if we aren’t careful enough, that fear can sneak up on us and do what it came to do: stop us cold in our tracks.

The balance comes when we learn to control our response to fear. Being “fearless” is irrational in my opinion. Fear is a natural emotion we humans experience when we feel there is real or perceived danger or discomfort.

We can feel various forms of fear when we find ourselves in a situation that we aren’t prepared for and don’t know the outcome of. We can feel fear when we’re getting ready to embark on something we’ve never experienced before. And, of course, we can feel fear when our personal safety or livelihood is threatened.

Fear is a great compass that either helps us determine if we’re going on the right path (when we feel fear about trying something new in our business) or if we we should proceed with caution or turn around completely (when our personal safety is threatened).

Fear is important – the difference in whether or not it controls us is how we respond to it.

Time for action:

Do you let inhibitions or fear get in the way of your creative life? The best form of action is to recognize the inhibition/fear and face it head-on.

Take 5 minutes and sit alone with yourself and grab a pen and piece of paper. Quiet yourself and think about the times you’ve tried to create something but stopped yourself because of fear.

Where did the fear come from? Was it because you were attempting something you’ve never tried before? Or perhaps you’ve tried it before but failed at it?

Don’t shy away from facing the things you might have been too afraid to in the past. It will be uncomfortable at first, but well worth it once you’re on the other side of that fear.


As mentioned before, NaNoWriMo is all about getting the words out there, no matter how crappy they are or how much they suck or how aware the writer is that most of those words are going to be trashed and thrown into Word Oblivion.

This lesson in quantity over quality is all about showing up – and how just showing up is half the battle. For many of us, much of our daily lives depend on our job performances and how much success or money we’re bringing in.

This isn’t a slight and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the facts.

The downside of this, though, is that we aren’t often left with any room to just play and do something for the fun of doing it – what we do in our adult lives has to matter. Or it has to gain us exposure. Or, in this age of social media, has to gain us social approval via ‘likes’ or the number of comments we receive.

Oh, what a happy day it was when I learned that the first draft of anything is crap!

The first draft is all about producing the work and getting it out there – this draft is the foundational piece, if you will. It’s the draft that no one will ever see (unless you want them to) and gives you the boost to move on to your next stage of creation now that the groundwork has been lain.

Time for action:

Schedule 20 minutes today (or this week) to just do your thing. Without worrying about the quality of the work you’re creating, think only about the quantity. This may feel really weird at first – good! Feeling weird means you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and there is where the real magic happens.


When was the last time you can honestly say you created something simply because you wanted to? Not something that was for display or for money or for anything other than the joy of creating. If it’s taking you longer than a couple minutes to think of the time, it’s safe to say it’s been way too long.

Why is that? Why have you stopped creating for yourself?

When we have laundry and kids and spouses and bills to take care of, it’s easy to let life happen and forget to care for our creative selves. But the joy in just creating can be a bit of a stress reliever and something that gives our childlike creativity the time it needs to play.

Time for action:

Take 10 minutes and grab your calendar. Look at the dates you have open within the next 7 days and set a time that works for you to spend time just creating.

If you don’t have a hobby that you’re into right now or are having a hard time thinking about something you could do just for fun, here are some one-size-fits-all suggestions:

Grab your favorite crayons or colored pencils and color in an adult (or children’s!) coloring book
Free-write for 15 minutes straight – don’t think about what you’re writing, don’t stop to edit yourself, don’t go back and erase anything. Just write.

Take a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. This may not be active creativity, but physical activity is a great way to get your brain moving and open up the doors for creativity. Before your walk, say to yourself that you’re going to be open to the creativity that’s out there and accepting to what comes to you.


I’ve mentioned earlier, but during NaNoWriMo part of the fun of the event is getting connected with people all over the world aiming to do the same crazy thing you’re trying to do. The event of NaNoWriMo is thrilling in and of itself, but to do it alongside so many other people just accelerates the fun!

Why? Because you’re not alone.

Being surrounded by other people reminds us that we aren’t alone and if we need help, we only need to reach out and ask for it.

That’s such a beautiful thing!

The thing about community is it’s not hard to find yours – community can be found in person or online. We live in such a unique time in that we have the internet to connect us to people all over the world, no matter where they are located or what their background is or how good their economic status is.

Time for action:

Go to your favorite social media site and enter your project or business niche into the search bar. Scroll through the results and see if you can get a feel of the communities that already exist. If you’re on Facebook, look for some open groups (or groups that have a killer description) to check out before you join. Instagram and Twitter utilize communities via hashtags as well as searchable phrases – so have at it!

Also, don’t forget about in-person groups and communities. Online communities are fabulous, but there’s nothing like good, old-fashioned face-to-face human interaction.


NaNoWriMo is not necessarily known for being a time to chill out or relax. In fact, it’s well-known in the NaNoWriMo community that taking even one day off during the month can put you back so far and start the downward spiral of getting off from your word count goals.

But after the month is over – December 1st, to be exact – the festive hats come out and the music starts to blare! It’s time to party and celebrate the fact that you’ve made it through the crazy month with your sanity still intact and more words for your manuscript than you did when you began!

Even during the month, while meeting your daily word count is important, it’s not as important as taking needed time for yourself or for your family. November is busy – no doubt about that. For U.S. participants, Thanksgiving is observed during the month and preparation for that day alone is cause for a few days off.

Time for action:

More than likely, there’s room in your day to take some time to stop, breathe, and just be in the present moment. Think about time slots that you may have hidden throughout your day.

Generally speaking, even the busiest people can find a few minutes here or there to substitute updating their Instagram page with deep breathing or re-centering themselves.

To do this, be honest with yourself: where can you shave off time to practice some much-needed “me time”?


The kicker about self-care is it often happens way after it’s needed. Don’t be that person. Make time for your self-care as you need it and keep your mental and physical health in check.

How do you engage in self-care? Do you apply any of the above-listed suggestions to your daily/weekly/monthly practice? Sharing is caring – let’s hear about it in the comments below!


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