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How Doing #NaNoWriMo is Actually Reducing My Stress

National Novel Writing Month reduced my stressI hemmed and hawed about whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The idea of this challenge–writing a 50,000 word novel in a month–has always appealed to my overachiever side, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, until now. This year, since I’ve been working my way through some doozies of personal emotional shit storms, like my hometown literally burning to the ground, not to mention our shared trauma over numerous international and national tragedies and natural disasters, I decided this was the perfect time to push myself to commit to starting my novel. Why not pile on more, right? 😛

Why in the hell would I commit to this insane writing challenge now, during a time in my life when I’ve been especially busy and stressed? Because I needed a g-darn creative outlet that is ONLY for me.

As a creative entrepreneur and bleeding heart, I don’t always give myself the time and resources I need for self care. Shocker, I know. I go through phases where I’m really good about practicing the gospel of self care that I preach, and then there are other times when life hits hard and I feel like blob of flesh with a spinning top for brain. A slow, wobbly whiligig at that.

I look at the beautiful Instagram feeds of folks I admire like Glennon Doyle, Lewis Howes, and Tim Ferriss and see how “on it” they are with fitness and general well being, and then think, what the heck is wrong with me? Why don’t I have it all together?

For most of us, real life isn’t so curated, or expertly executed. (At least I hope it’s how most of us are and not just me and a few people I know.) There’s this myth that we too can “have it all together.”

But there’s a limit to our personal bandwidth.

I’m going to be asshole here and go ahead and say that it’s not really possible to have everything perfectly aligned in your life–or at least not for more than a short period of time. Life is seasonal, with good times and bad.

We have to stop pretending like perfection and balance is attainable.

Now, before you think I’m a total pessimist, know that I’m not saying we can’t improve our lives, or even have damn great lives. I just think we hold up this model of being wealthy, healthy, perfecto human beings like if we just work hard enough, are disciplined enough, or eat paleo, everything will change. We’ll have achieved nirvana here on earth. And because we believe this, we compare it to where we are now and push and press ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it. Then feel like failures when it doesn’t happen.

We forget that progress takes time, or that many of the celebrity-lifestyle-gurus who are doing great things also do not live perfect lives, despite what we may see in their Instagram feeds.

No one knows the personal challenges you face like you do. People may try to understand (or not) but remember no one really knows what’s going on in that old brainpan of yours. Some of us have taller hurdles to jump, or mountains to climb.

Give yourself a break and take the time you need to figure out what will work for you. Stop frantically trying all of the things. Get alone time and think on what will help you change and improve your life and career.

So what does all of this have to do with me doing #NaNoWriMo and it actually helping my stress levels? I’m so glad you asked. 😉

I do creative work and strategy work for a living and I love it. But it also drains my creative well (as Julia Cameron would say), so when it comes time for downtime sometimes I go into blob mode, incapable of making a creative decision–even if that’s just what I should make for dinner.

With all of the major disasters and events in October, toward the end of the month I was feeling like El Blobo, bigtime.

Thank god though, I was able to actually listen to this little nagging voice that kept saying, “Hey, maybe you should start on that novel you’ve been wanting to write…maybe you could use #NaNoWriMo to get your butt in gear?”

I told my accountability buddies I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and how I felt a little crazy to be thinking about it since I was already juggling so much. But this voice inside assured me that if I could figure out a way to fit it into my life, it would be a good thing, a restorative thing. So I listened. And my accountability buddies decided they’d join in too.

Here’s how I adjusted my goals: The traditional approach is to write 1,667 words every day so that by November 30th you’ve got 50,000 words written. I knew this was way out of my feasibility at this time. I settled on just 500 words per day.

This little chunk of words–which I can sometimes finish in as little as twenty minutes (this is shitty first draft status, so don’t freak)–feels like a treat rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Now I’m only a week or so in, so you know, count that for what it’s worth, but I have been enjoying this writing like I haven’t for a long time. See it’s not an emotional rollercoaster like writing my memoir or essays about single motherhood can be. And while that writing is important and I will go back to it, this feels like pure fun!

Not only does it tap into the pleasure of just writing with my imagination, but I’m writing a novel set in the 1800’s so it also hits my history-buff-research-aholic pleasure center as well.

I’m telling you all this, not because i think you should jump on the NaNoWriMo bus, but because I hope it will spark some ideas for you on how you might refill your well with something you love–utilizing a tool that will keep you accountable.

Speaking of that, I registered on the Nanowrimo website and set my personal goals, but the site also tracks your progress compared to the standard 1,667 words/day standard as well. And so, here’s where that impossible ideal of comparison rears its ugly head. And I choose to ignore it.

Here’s a recent screenshot (of my hackneyed tracking on the site):

my nanowrimo progress

I’ve also been tracking my progress by posting on Instagram, and forgot to enter my words on a daily basis on the site. So basically, I already screwed up my tracking part. LOL. But I don’t care. I’m doing the writing.

I don’t care that other people are writing more, or not. I don’t even care about the quality of what I’m producing.

I do care that I found a creative activity that is purely selfish, in the best way possible.

And guess what? That makes me better at everything in my life. A happier mother, girlfriend, dog-mama, friend, consultant, designer, marketer, brander, etc. You get the idea. And that, my friends is the stuff of real, positive change.

My challenge to you is to think about what you might do to nurture your own creative spirit.

How can you slow down enough to be able to hear that little voice inside you telling you exactly what is needed to heal your overworked, stressed, yet pressing on soul?

And hey, if you figure it out let me know! I’d love to hear what you decided to do for yourself and how you plan to keep yourself accountable.

Remember, you have something(s) amazing to contribute to this world, but you ain’t going to make it if you’re feeling like a blob with a spinning top for a brain.

Go find that restorative thing, hold yourself to it, and love your badass self.

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