NaNo Tip #3: Feed the Source


(Image captured by the fabulous Dorothy Lange)

Oh, November. You are such a long, cruel month. And if I feel like this on Day 10 of NaNoWriMo, how can I possibly survive until Day 30?

I zipped along that first week on a tidal wave of optimism and excitement. But today, my source of creative inspiration feels much like the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s: utterly depleted and depressing. Where once I had a flood of exciting new ideas, now there are only a few hackneyed tropes clinging like weeds to the dust of my brain.

I’d like to acknowledge upfront that there are several reasons for this, some of them certainly outside my control. First, there’s the shift to standard time. In addition to temporarily messing up my own circadian rhythm, “falling back” has played merry hell with my two-year-old’s temperament (and let’s be honest; it’s not invariably rosy to begin with). Then there’s the fact that I live in a particularly soggy corner of the United States. As the days grow shorter and wetter, I seem to be spending more time in darkness… both literally and emotionally. And finally, there’s the election. Sigh. I’m exhausted from cruising the waves of vitriol and uncertainty. I’m tired. So tired, in fact, that I’m just not capable of discussing it further here.

Those are the factors I can’t control currently contributing to my Week 2 NaNo malaise. But what about the rest of it? Honestly, this didn’t all hit at once. I’ve been noticing my attention starting to wander, my energy slowly fading. Yesterday, slogging through my word count did not feel creative and joyful. I never reached that flow state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identified as the key to fulfillment. I had to fight for every small gain. What a difference from the steady and exhilarating word flow of last week!

But honestly, this isn’t surprising. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron points out that creative work requires an investment of self. If we aren’t willing to replenish ourselves with truly restful and rejuvenating activities, then ultimately we’ll just leach ourselves of the ability to produce at all. (Aha! Are you getting my Dust Bowl metaphor now?)

Cameron labels this nose-to-the-grindstone work style as “artistic anorexia.” She warns that those of us ignoring short term self-care will experience long-term problems. We will begin “leaching our souls to find images, returning to past work, to tricks, practicing our craft more than enlarging our art.”

Yes, in case you missed the memo: I’m a granola-crunching fan of Cameron’s work. And I find her analysis of the creative temperament to ring very true.

Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my scarcity mentality. I go crazy with the self-denial. “You can’t afford to just loaf around,” I tell myself. “There are words to write. There are school lunches to pack.” And as a sop to my soul, I pause to steal a bit of my kids’ Halloween candy. There. M&Ms guzzled; you’ve had your treat for the day. Now, go balance the checkbook… that can be your break from writing.

Um, no. I can’t expect to meet my NaNoWriMo goals if my self-care consists of cataloging grocery receipts. That’s horrible. And yes, I am a legitimately busy person. Aren’t we all? But if I get creative, I can carve out a little more time for joy in my day. So this week I’m pondering what I can do to really take care of myself:

  • I want to spend some enjoyable time with my family (nagging them to get dressed in the morning doesn’t count).
  • I want to spend some enjoyable, unproductive time by myself.
  • I want to attend a religious service and/or yoga.
  • I want to eat and/or drink something super delicious.

What are you doing to feed your mind, soul, and body? I’d love some tips! After all, we can’t win this thing if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. 




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