Last month I blogged about my first year of participating in NaNoWriMo. (And in the end, I did make my 50,000 words–woo-hoo!) So this month I thought I would talk about what I think is a pretty common after-effect of NaNoWriMo: burnout.
Now, if you participate in NaNo and manage to churn out 50,000 words in a month, December is a prime time to feel exhausted by the effort and completely burned out on writing in general. For myself, I am (as mentioned in last month’s post) more than a little compulsive about a daily word count, so I wouldn’t say that NaNo completely burned me out. But–like a long distance runner after the big race– I did feel the writerly equivalent of achy muscles from such a protracted sprint, and I know other writer friends of mine have definitely experienced the same.
Of course, burnout can strike at any time, certainly not just in December and certainly not just in authors who have NaNo-ed! But here are a few of my thoughts for fighting the burn:
1. Take a break! If you’ve just pushed yourself to finish a major chunk of your novel in record time (whether for NaNo or not), you deserve to take a rest and ease off the gas pedal a bit when you reach your goal. Other authors may feel otherwise, but for myself I wouldn’t recommend stopping writing entirely, or at least not for more than a few days. My writing muscles atrophy if I’m not using them, and time off makes it that much harder to start up again. But dial down your daily word count goals and use the extra time for something fun and relaxing instead.
2. Change gears. I think a major issue that a lot of NaNo participants face is that come December 1 they realize that writing those initial 50,000 words–challenging as it undoubtedly was–is actually the comparatively easy part. Next comes shaping and editing and somehow transforming those words into a workable novel. And there’s definitely no shame in feeling overwhelmed by that task! If you’re dreading having to start revisions and feel like your manuscript has developed fangs and is chuckling evilly at you from the corner . . . you might try stepping away and changing gears for a few weeks. You’ll probably be in a better place to look at your book objectively after some time away from it anyway. So write something else: a blog . . a review. . . heck, start an entirely new story if one is tugging on your sleeve. Just promise your book that you WILL be back to edit it and make it the best it can possibly be.
3. Read! When I feel like I’m spinning my wheels or have gone off the rails with a WIP–but I’m just too darn tired and overwhelmed to figure out how to fix what’s wrong, there is no better cure for me than letting myself sink into a great story. Sometimes I’ll go for a ‘comfort’ read that I’ve read a million times but never tire of (Mary Stewart’s books are favorites of mine) and sometimes it’s something new. But (even though I read books constantly anyway) when I’m burned out I give myself extra reading time, time to fall in love with the magic of stories all over again from the perspective of a reader. Because after all, as authors, we are our books’ very first readers.
4. Go back to basics. When I’m fighting a burnout, I often find it really helpful to step away from teh keyboard and instead take one of my books on writing craft off my shelf and read a few chapters. Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction is a personal favorite, but I’m sure there are many others. I don’t usually re-read the whole book, just enough to remind myself of the fundamentals of good storytelling that should be in front of me all the time I’m writing.
So those are my thoughts. How about you? Have you been burned out? How did you fight it?
Image by *Dramallamaless.