I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I’d learned quite a bit since my last foray into the land of writing and publishing. One of those things I’d like to touch on today is the fine art of walking away. Now, while it’s true I walked completely away from a modestly successful career three years back, that’s not the kind of walking I want to talk about.
As many of you out there may know, November is when the craze NaNoWriMo takes hold of the entire planet it would seem. Everyone and their brother’s friend’s cousin twice removed is out to chase the words and write at least 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s the great race to be creative through story telling. In case you’re not terribly familiar with what NaNoWriMo entails, I can let you know they have a fabulous website full of inspirational ideas, forums for local municipalities (your region), support staff, gadgets and bells and whistles to measure your progress, and a pretty nifty tee-shirt you can order proclaiming you have successfully completed at least 50,000 words by November 30. Since its conception, NaNo has expanded to a couple of NaNo Camps in April and July, which are a ton of fun.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo several times over the years, both in November and at one or both of the camps, and only sported a couple of “wins.” What a win entails is relative as far as I’m concerned and according to one’s perception of what success is (more on this another day!). There are so many reasons or excuses I could give as to why that was, that I only garnered a couple of “wins”, but the simple point of the matter is this: time management.
One of the things I took away from my last bout of writer’s fever, from which I suffered one of the worst cases of burnout in history, is this: sitting at the keyboard relentlessly for hours on end trying to force words to fly forth from one’s fingertips is a futile endeavor. A few things can result from this pitiful, self-torturous habit.
First, it’s not good for your self-care on any level. Your body will eventually reject the stance of hunched over and you will hurt all over at some point. The general aches and pains can of course turn into worse than a single dose of acetaminophen can cure if you’re not careful. Carpal tunnel, wiped out rotator cuffs, neck strain, and the list goes on. An article from Health24 back in 2016 talks about the onset of “gamer’s thumb” and how it’s become a trend to see young people suffering repetitive motion injuries they are way too young to be having to worry about. Along with joint and muscle issues, I know from first-hand experience the dangers of not getting proper nourishment and hydration from sitting for hours on end ignoring my body’s signals that it needed water and actual real food not some puffed up, artificial ingredient treat covered in cheesy flavored, imitation orange colored dust. Eventually your backside is too big to get into your plush chair you procured from the local Pier1 and your sweat pants won’t stretch any further to accommodate your expanding waist. Get up, walk, hydrate, and eat a pear or a carrot or some lean protein. Also in the realm of self-care, avoiding isolationism. I wrote a bit on isolationism before. It’s bad juju people. Isolationism can lead to all manner of problems. Get out of the house and seek others. Like actual real life fleshy people you can talk to face to face not from behind your screen. Have a cup of coffee with someone.
Secondly, what I’ve found to be true at least for me, sitting at the computer for hours on end results in no more words than if I pace myself and take regular long breaks between writing sessions. The quality of what I write is pretty sucky when forced, as well. During this month of the mad dash for the words, I tried an approach I promised myself I would adhere to when I first took up the notion to return to the writing world. I set aside a couple or three separate hours each day to devote to writing, whenever I can work them in around all the other activities I have going on. During the designated hours, I sit and I write. I even set a timer to make sure I stick to my plan. At the end of my time, even if my characters are hanging, I get up and leave it alone. It might seem counter-intuitive to leave your story hanging when you’re on a roll, but for me that little dangling bit of a scene is seed left for when I pick up again. I might jot a note on where I was going with a thought, but I leave it be nonetheless.
Using this approach, I find I’m not forcing words and I’m actually netting more words per day than I was sitting and staring at a blank page or pounding for hours on end. I netted so many words per day the last few weeks that I actually won NaNo early for the first time ever with a little over 50,000 words logged on November 20…ten days early! Let’s face it. While a first draft is always crap, I’ve discovered writing this way is yielding less crappy crap the first time around. Bonus!
Today, my muse is happier, my body is less achy, and I didn’t gain ten pounds during NaNo this year. I highly recommend perfecting the fine art of knowing when to walk away.
Fellow writers, I wish for you much creativity today. Readers, I hope to have news in the coming weeks about where I have found a new home for my works. The landscape has changed significantly from only three years ago, so I’m weeding through the options, asking a lot of questions, and narrowing the field.
Now, get up from the computer and walk away for a while. Get in some self-care. Your body will thank you!