I often find myself talking about how difficult writing can be for most people. The blank page is quite intimidating, new writer or experienced. So is the pressure to write a story anyone actually wants to take the time to read. When National Novel Writing Month 2023 came up on the calendar, promising to be your guide to writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, a new challenge comes up for new writers: that of keeping up creative momentum for thirty consecutive days.

There are different kinds of creative energy, all of them equally valuable and necessary. There is starting energy, which most people commonly identify as that genuine spark of inspiration. When you’re infused with this type of energy, you’re kicking off and raring to go. Nothing can stop you from jumping in. Often people will describe the opposite: finishing energy. This is where you’re so close to the end that, no matter how fatigued you might be, you give that extra push to finish.

Somewhere in the middle there is the less romantic sustaining energy. This is what, if you’re lucky, keeps you going in between those more iconic infusions.  

Let’s be honest. In whatever we do, professionally or personally, consistency often presents its own unique challenge. I sometimes think of the best athletes. Take for example a high-level, competitive basketball player, whose job it is to perform every single night during a season.

Some nights during the long grind are great. The player goes out and scores thirty points, pulling down rebounds and making steals. Other nights? Well, they’re not so great. They get into foul trouble. They struggle to get their jump shot. Maybe the coach, seeing them struggle, pulls them from the game, leading to boos and questions in the media. 

Writing is a little like that (without the booing). In the course of what, in the end, is a terrific month of new writing, you are going to have tough sessions. Between two thousand word days, you’re going to have one or two stinkers. Maybe you get 500 words. Maybe you don’t even make it to your desk. 

How do you keep National Novel Writing Month 2023 going through those inevitable tough days? 

That’s what this blog is all about. 

Five Tips To Keeping National Novel Writing Month 2023 Going

national novel writing month 2023, erick mertz

Tip #1: Give Yourself Room To Breathe

When I struggle writing (which can happen even to a professional and often does when I am under pressure, either self imposed or from outside) it feels like the walls are closing in on me. Sometimes I think: will I ever write another decent word again?

What happens next? Inevitably, I end up back at my desk, writing and feeling good about the results. What do I do to get out of that funk?

I give myself room to breathe.

I love my dog, Eleanor, for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps top of that list is that whenever I’m itching to get out for a walk and some fresh air, she’s happy to go with me. 

She’s like an honorary member of my staff. 

Going for that walk, sometimes for as short as fifteen minutes, helps give me the necessary room to regroup and breathe. When I get that ‘walls closing in’ feeling, I grab the leash and run downstairs. After a few laps around the neighborhood, I’m ready to start writing again.

You don’t have to go out and get a dog – or another one, if you’re already a pet owner. Whatever it is, find what allows you to create some distance from that pressure filled feeling. 

Tip #2: Take A Break From Focusing On National Novel Writing Month 2023

This is a big one for me. Sometimes it’s the singular aspect of National Novel Writing Month 2023 that threatens to get in the way of optimal results. Almost like the commitment to focusing makes focusing impossible.

Maybe I’m weird for this, but no matter how big the project scope, I always have something else on the side of my desk to work on. A short story. An album review. Blogs like the one you’re reading. Something creative that allows me to throw off the yoke of the main project.

This distraction can be immensely helpful.

Maybe you’re not to the stage of your writing journey where you’re comfortable dividing your focus between two projects. My encouragement here is to find a way to allow for some creative variation. Go make something that’s not your National Novel Writing Month 2023 project, whether that’s a letter to a friend or a meal.

Tip #3: Give Yourself An Outlet For Success… And Frustration

One of my favorite elements of National Novel Writing Month the sheer amount of support that comes with getting yourself involved. Under the main NaNoWriMo website, you can connect with groups, in-person or virtual write ins, among other things.

This year I’m participating for the first time and I’m hosting a group. Every day I get on, post a message and respond to others. It’s so therapeutic.  

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Creative endeavors are, by nature, mercurial. Their results are quite often wrapped up in uncertainty. The creative act is a bold risk.

Writers need support in order to write successfully. What is more, they need to offer their support to others to really feel complete. Join a National Novel Writing Month 2023 group, whether on-line or through social media, and participate in the conversation about writing.

I can almost guarantee you that venting your frustrations and touting your successes, and being there for others doing the same thing, will help you along in the process. 

Tip #4: A Clear Head Fills Pages

This National Novel Writing Month 2023 tip kinda, sorta connects to the first one. I think, however, addressing this aspect of mental and emotional clarity specifically makes a lot of sense.

You can’t create if you’re frustrated, feel depressed, or are worried about something.

Or maybe you are the rare person who can, I don’t know. We are all very different, but the point I want to make is this: everyday worries get in the way of fruitful creative pursuits. Maintaining happiness and good mental health are far more important, in the long run, than whether or not you finish your NaNoWriMo project. Compared to those things, 50,000 is a luxury.

November can be a tough month for a lot of people. Darkness has already started to fall across the northern hemisphere (egads, it’s almost winter!) and then there is the oncoming holiday season. These can be strong triggers for a lot of people. Heck, you may not even know that you’re triggered until this season. Mental health can be tricky like that.

If you’re feeling compromised, depressed, or anxious it may be time to take a break from writing (unless, of course, writing provides you a necessary outlet for your feelings). Buckle in and find a way to work on your story that fits your mood. 

Tip #5: Adjusting National Novel Writing Month 2023 Goals

This should be a theme for this year’s NaNoWriMo adventure. Thirty days may not be long in a cosmic or geologic sense, but when it comes to writing, it can feel like an eternity.

Measured differently, 50,000 words is a lot. Things change during the course of a story in the process of spilling that much ink. Things change in a writer, too. The book you sit down to write on November 1st will not be the same one you finish thirty days later. 

Something will happen, it’s inevitable. Believe me when I say that my NaNoWriMo 2023 project took a major detour JUST THIS MORNING and, well, it’s all the better for it. 

Go where the story takes you. Adjust accordingly. 

Blue balloon on yellow background

The Secret to National Novel Writing Month 2023 (Which Is Going To Sound Familiar)

Writing is tough. I started out this blog talking about that reality and now that we’re coming to a close, I’ll say that the same holds true.

Writing is a challenging pursuit. There are no magic bullets or theories to get it right every time.

If I’m going out on a limb to tout anything as a “secret”, whether for National Novel Writing Month 2023 or anything else, it’s to manage your expectations. Keep them in check. If you push yourself too hard, too determinedly toward an ideal of perfection, you’re very likely to end up disappointed. If you expect every day to result in a breezy 1,667 words publication ready, let me tell you something: it isn’t happening.

You’re going to have a few days where the abundance in your creativity is going to surprise you. Those are your all-star, thirty point games. On those days, you’re Michael Jordan. 

Others you’re not going to be so hot. The goal is to find the middle and be happy there. To learn that everything, if you’re persistent, evens out.

Actor Ryan Reynolds (of Deadpool fame) offers up one of my favorite quotes about the perils of having expectations. He says, quite simply and eloquently, “When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.”