Nanowrimo and health :: If you don’t take care of the writer, the book ends before it begins

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Writing a novel in a month is going to be taxing on your body and your mind. If you don’t take care of the writer, your book will end before it’s even had a chance to begin. Health and self-care come up routinely when we’re talking about how to ‘win’ Nanowrimo, so here’s a collection of all the tips and tricks Coralyn and Calliopes.Sin have picked up in our combined 22 years of Nanowrimo:

Eat Well: Food is your fuel – if you put crap in, you’ll get crap back out
Make sure you’re eating food that is quick to eat and prepare (yay word counts!), but also nutritious and a good balance. You won’t be helping yourself if you eat only super easy foods that contain zero fibre. The time you save on eating will be spent double the next day while you try to poop. Seriously guys, eat properly.

Hydrate: Drinking less so you take less pee breaks is a terrible strategy
We underestimate the amount of effort our bodies go to just by sitting still and typing like a demon. Particularly in Australia, we need to stay hydrated during warm months. For every cup of something-else (soft drink, tea, coffee, wine, etc), have a glass of water with it. Caffeine can dry you out too, so take that into account.

Sleep: Falling asleep on the keyboard makes for an unusually high error rate
 While we can’t die from lack of sleep, we start to get pretty crappy at things when we don’t sleep enough. Our memories don’t function as well, our reflexes are slower, we lose coordination. None of those things are great for writing a novel. If you get too tired, stop and sleep. Take a 90 minute or 3 hour nap (or body’s default sleep cycle is about 90 minutes, so you shouldn’t wake in your ‘deep sleep’ mode, leaving you feeling rested)


Wrist care:
If your wrists hurt, rest them. Use anti-inflammatories as directed. Support them with strapping and/or bracing. Use ice and/or heat. A good temporary strategy for pain areas is to run them under as hot water as you can stand for 15 seconds, and straight away run them under cold water for 20 seconds. The nerves in the area become ‘confused’ and will ease your pain for a little while. (Should only be used temporarily, and if pain persists see a doctor! Don’t power through it, you need those to write with. Be gentle with them, and early intervention for problems is key.)

Eye care:
If your eyes hurt, try changing your distance from the monitor or the angle you look at the screen. You may also want to look into f.lux, which changes the monitor colour depending on the time of day (which helps a ton with sleep if you use your computer in the evening). If eye pain or headaches persist, see an optometrist (also totally bulkbilled) to make sure you haven’t developed short-range eyesight issues that can be corrected with glasses.

Back (and other muscle) care:

If you back hurts (or other muscles), try changing the chair you sit in, or the position you’re sitting in the chair. Lumbar (lower back) support can be really helpful, and there are specifically cushions to aid with this, but a pillow or a rolled up towel will do just as well in a pinch. You can also see a bunch of exercises to do at your desk here and here.

An important note about bodily autonomy and the right to make bad choices:

All of these things said, your body is yours. You can do with it what you please. If you want to make decisions that lead to poor health outcomes, then that’s entirely your right. This post is not to guilt you out about making bad health choices, but to inform you of ways you can improve your health in a reasonable manner while doing NaNoWriMo.
How much you follow it is up to you and your priorities – you are not a better or worse writer (or human) for ticking off these boxes. Just do what you feel your body needs, and live with the consequences.

Coralyn’s Apology List for Nanowrimo 2015 (video)

(You can read the transcript below, or watch the video! Your choice, readers – but the video has Coralyn’s slightly weird accent in it, plus pretty lipstick.)


Nano takes a lot of our time and energy over the month. While I think it’s important that we remember to take care of ourselves (physically, emotionally, socially, etc), a good portion of us won’t do all of those things all the time, so… here’s the apology thread!

Dear cats, I’m sorry that I’ll repeatedly shove you off the keyboard next month. It’s usually endearing, but this time it just won’t cut it (unless I’m procrastinating, then have at it).

Dear housemate, I’m sorry that we’ll be eating many foods next month that come out of the microwave and into our faces. I’m usually quite the gourmet chef (probably a lie), but in November, all bets are off. Icing sugar is a suitable breakfast food, right?

Dear stomach, I’m sorry that I wrote that thing above. I know you’re intolerant to most things, and ‘most things’ will be the ingredients on pretty much everything I stick in the microwave. I promise to be good to you in December (probably also a lie).

Dear partner, I’m sorry that I’ll forget you exist, except for when I want someone to celebrate with, or complain to. I’m also sorry that I convinced you to do this crazy thing with me, because now you know what I cry about and also why I have no time in November. I promise the positives outweigh the negatives. I’m also sorry if my word count ever makes you feel bad about your second-year, no-win attempt word count. All your words are good words, and you count more than your word count (and thanks for sacrificing your word count on day 1 to make me tea).

Dear friends (who don’t do nano), I’m sorry that you won’t see me this month, and if you do see me, that I’ll seem sleep-deprived, crazed, and possibly slightly starved (I’ll be all of those things). I’m sorry that you’ll know more about my plot than my imaginary readers, and I’m sorry about the hour-by-hour word count updates on facebook that I’ll make while I’m doing well, and the grumping I’ll do when I don’t want to talk about my word count in Week 2. Thank you for being incredible, tolerant people.

Dear neighbours, I’m sorry for being short if you try to say hello to me when I’m doing a snack run. I’m not angry with you, I just have important writerly business to procrastinate.

Dear other wrimos, I’m sorry for doing a bit of that (above) to you too. I fluctuate widely between ‘Get ALL the words done!’ and ‘Uh… so… I’m going to eat a bunch of cake and destroy your productivity too, okay?’. I hope I manage to catch you when you’re in the same phase as I am, but my apologies really are heartfelt if you want to work and I want to sing, or if you want to socialise and I pat you on the face, whispering ‘shhhh now’. It’s not personal, it’s just nanowrimo.

Dear book characters, I’m sorry for all I will do to you, regardless of your roles. Some of you will remain unimportant, your true stories never making it onto the page. I’m sorry that I’ve ignored your potential to highlight another’s. Some of you will die early, your stories cut short by my knife. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to live out to the epilogue, and the pain it will cause your loved ones. Some of you, the very special ones, I’m going to put through hell. I will drag you through the fire, kicking and screaming, until you come out a shining, burning version of yourself. I will see you reach your potential, and then some. I will see you go on one more day when you think you can’t possibly stand it. I am sorry. I see the light at the end of the tunnel when you are blinded by the dark. I see how you can change and grow to meet the challenges you think you can’t possibly survive, let alone conquer. I believe in you, characters. Together we’ll live out great stories and thwart evil doers, but it will take sacrifice on both of our parts.

Dear self, I’m sorry that out of everyone, I’m going to be hardest on you. You’re going to type until your fingers ache and it still won’t be enough. You’re going to plot out your story, and it’s going to turn on you and leave you scrambling after a major character unexpectedly dies. You’re going to work hard on your novels, but still feel sad when you fall short of goals. You’re going to spend the month reminding others that you are more than your word count, but you’re still going to tie at least a little bit of your self-esteem to that number on the screen regardless. I will try to treat you with compassion. I will endeavour to be kind to you, acting as if you’re another writer who needs to be cared for gently – encouraged on hard days, celebrated with on good ones. You’re going to tell some incredible stories this month, so I will try to take care of you enough so you have the opportunity to get those stories onto paper. I won’t always get it right, but I will try.


Who do you need to apologise to this month?

The Time is Na-Now


I see you shivering. I see your fingers itching to start. For some of you, I see you waiting and hoping that somehow you’re going to have another week between October 31st and November 1st. Sadly, this will not happen.

My tips for surviving day one:

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

You might not feel the writing flowing. To be honest, the first few days might feel clunky. Sometimes, I don’t feel comfortable in my plot till I’m about 16,000 words in. Luckily, I try to storm through this in the first few days but if you’re following the 50k goal then this is going to be a while.

You are only writing against yourself.

It doesn’t matter if that random in your region has just passed you for the fourth time today; you need to write for you. If you’re writing for other people then you will find yourself in trouble very soon in.



Tips and Tricks for ‘Overachievers’ (writing beyond 50k)


I promise I don’t usually pull this face at write ins.

When I started NaNoWriMo back in 2004, I barely reached the finish line. I screeched into Dec 1 with a shade over 50,000 words, with 15 minutes to spare.

Now I fall into what we loosely call the ‘overachievers’ (OA’ers). It’s not a great name, but we don’t really have an appropriate one for ‘people who like to write too much, really quickly’, so for now it will serve.

The OA’ers have passed the 50,000 words in a month as a challenge. They enjoy NaNoWriMo, but a lot of the fun in nano is doing something crazy and difficult. When 50k in 30 days is no longer really hard, some wrimos elect to up the stakes and do nano on hard mode. That’s where the OA’ers come in.

You might be an Overachiever if:

  • You hit 50k early (before validation starts)
  • You write more than 50k in 30 days (OA’ers can write as little as 60k, or as much as a million).
  • You have some really big writing days (writing 10k in a day is a pretty huge achievement!)

OR: If you want to do any of these things, but haven’t done them yet. OA’ers accept people attempting crazy goals – not just those who have managed to reach them!

There’s no right way or wrong way to ‘overachieve’, and it doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. Nanowrimo remains a challenge to yourself, regardless of your word count. Some people who write 5k during November struggle more to write that than those who complete the month with 200k.

It’s also important to remember that overachievers struggle, just like ‘regular’ wrimos. Their Week 2 Wall sucks just as much, and they have the exact same problems 50k’ers do, just over more words or less time. Be kind to your OA’ers – it’s not necessarily easy to them, just because they’ve done it before, or because their word count is higher. Kindness and compassion goes a long way.

You count more than your word count.

Now, all of that said, I’m not an expert at this (or anything, really). There are a few things I’ve picked up along the way, and I thought I’d compile them in a post for people might not have worked them out yet. If you have any of your own, you can post them in the comments!

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My Cinder, as a kitten. Protip: If you want to write more, don’t get a cat. They are jerks, and very bad for productivity. They are super cute and fluffy though, and help when writing just doesn’t work. It’s a fine balance.

Frequently Asked Questions about Overachieving and 50kDay1:

What is your typing speed?
My typing speed sits about 110wpm, but hits a stride around 140wpm when I’m really ‘in the zone’. I tend to write in 10 minute chunks (write 10/rest 2-3/write 10), and I’ll come out of that with between 1200 and 1450 words. Admittedly the first hour or two of Day 1 I tend to pull 800-900 word sprints, just while my fingers warm up and get used to it.  It’s certainly possible to pull off a 50kDay1 (or any ‘big day’) at a lower typing speed, you just need more dedication.

How much do you plot?
I prefer to heavily plot, both for speed and the sheer enjoyment of plotting. At the least, I try to go into Nano with my Day 1 novel plotted out to at least a chapter description (1-2 lines). It keeps me on track when Week 2 strikes. Even if you’re doing a novel-in-a-day, you still hit that point around 14k-26k that just drags terribly. My plots keep me on track for that and remind me that I have a plan, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

How many hours do you write?
Last year I managed 75kDay1. I wrote for about 21 hours of that, so I think 100kDay1 is theoretically possible, though this year I’m having some health issues that will make typing harder so I’m not shooting for the stars. My first 50kDay1 I wrote for 18 hoursish, maybe 19. It’s definitely a full-day dedication. Last year took me roughly 12 hours.

How long have you been doing this?
Once you hit goals once, they’re a lot easier to achieve. 50k in 30 days seemed huge when I started 11 years ago (this will be my 12th nano), and I barely scraped across the finish line. I did my first 50k-in-a-week in 2009. I did it in a day in 2012. 75k in a day last year. It gets easier.

You get better at working out what you need to plot out to write quickly, and what you don’t need (I’ve done away with character profiles, for instance). Your typing gets faster the more word sprints you do, and you find ways to improve that (better music to write to, I use a mechanical keyboard and wrist braces, and I type both faster and more accurately with my eyes shut – little things like that).

If you write that fast, isn’t your novel terrible? How can you write something decent that quickly?
Are my 50kDay1 novels perfect? Of course not. But they’re pretty great stories, and I do love them. I also don’t think they’d take as much editing as people would like to think. My first 50kDay1 was certainly a better novel than my very first nanowrimo. We all use different measures.

A big part of it is learning to embrace trains of thought in your writing. We’re taught to shut them out to create a better piece of writing, but that’s exactly what first drafts are for. Get it written, not right. Some of my favourite scenes or dialogue chunks have started with a train of thought that I let just run.

My eldest daughter, who is definitely not writing a novel this month.

My eldest daughter, who is definitely not writing a novel this month.

Tips and Tricks for Overachieving:

  • If you can’t pull an all-nighter, try to write for an hour or so before you go to sleep. Having words on paper in the morning makes it much easier to drag yourself out of bed and start.
  • Link in with the OA community. I can’t stress this enough. The OA’ers are a great bunch of people, supportive and compassionate and crazy. They are beautiful. The ‘Beyond 50k’ forum on the official Nanowrimo site is dedicated to the OA community, with all its own special goals and struggles. I also use the OA chat (or find them on #Nanooverachiever on if you use IRC). They’re a great group of people who love you no matter your word count, but they won’t call you a cheater or discourage you from crazy goals either. Need a word war in the middle of the night? They’ll be there for you. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.
  • Find ways to motivate yourself. Some people bribe themselves with something they like every 1000 words. Some people use others to hold them accountable. I use word sprints – I write for 10 minutes, then update my word count, then write again. Seeing that bar move over the hour is motivation enough for me.
  • Reduce time wasters. Set up food the day before that you can heat and eat quickly so you don’t use excuses to get out of typing. Ask a friend or loved one to hang out at your house and make you tea (or coffee, or whatever your poison) on request. If you’re going to nap, go and do that – don’t make excuses to do a bunch of things before and after.
  • Take care of yourself. Use wrist supports if you know that’s a problem area for you (as it is for most of us who type lots in small periods of time). If you can, prepare meals a day ahead that are *good* meals (not just heating up 2 minute noodles in the microwave). Drink a lot of water, you’ll dehydrate if you’re not careful, especially if you’re also caffeinating. You can afford that pee break. Try to sleep the day before a bit if you plan to all-nighter.

    Above all – pull out if you know things aren’t okay. If you need to sleep, just do it. If you need to stop caffeinating, do that. If you need a break for your sanity, that’s okay. If you’re in too much pain, don’t push it. 50kANYday is still awesome, and day1 isn’t your only chance to do it. It’s fun, but it’s not the end of the world to try another day. (All of that said, many OA’ers can and will do all of those ‘naughty’ things – it’s about knowing your own limits, and when to push them and when to use good self-care)

  • Plotting. As mentioned above, I find that plotting to at least chapter outlines makes my life a lot easier. I also keep a master list of possible names that suit my setting (that I mark off when one gets used so I don’t repeat) so I don’t spend ages looking for the ‘right’ one, and a list of main/regular characters (so I don’t forget who is who) with the major details about them. My condensed snowflake method makes this pretty easy to do in a short amount of time (like between now and Nov 1!), so you can find that buried in myblog post about plotting here from last year if you’re interested. There is also one about planning here.
    (Not everyone is a plotter, and certainly some of the ‘best’ overachievers are pantsers. Do what works for you – you’ll pick up on that the more you write. Every year – every day – adds to the wisdom for the next writing session. Go with it.)

I know I certainly don’t have all the answers (or even close), and there are many others who have their own tips and tricks that work for them. Get to know what works for you, and run with that even if it seems weird. I used to be really self-conscious about typing with my eyes closed, but it’s actually really effective for me. I know my caffeine and pain limits, and I work within those (and plan to rest on Day 2!).

Do what works for you. You are more than your word count, but OA’ing can be an awful lot of fun. Don’t let anyone tell you that your goal is crazy – 50k in 30 days seemed crazy once too.

Above all – don’t accuse other OA’ers of cheating. Some people can do pretty amazing things, and it demoralises and weakens the whole community if we accuse people of cheating. Don’t do it, it’s not cool, and it will get you removed from groups if you make your complaints known. It’s an awful culture, and it’s really hurtful if you’ve worked really hard to achieve a new goal for yourself and someone stomps all over it by not believing you.

Some people do ‘cheat’ and increase their word count by ‘unfair’ means – but they’re really only cheating themselves. Nanowrimo is a competition where the only competitors are you and the clock. There are no judges, no (real) prizes. You win if you feel like you’ve achieved something – regardless of your word count. Cheating only hurts yourself, and accusing others only hurts the community.

Love the month. Love what you write. Love the other people writing alongside you. Above all, kindness is free – so use it generously.

Be awesome to each other,
– Coralyn

Tips for Writing Dystopia


I’m writing a dystopian novel for my ‘main’ project for NaNoWriMo 2015. It’s not my first attempt at the genre, and it’s something that I very much enjoy reading. My favourite ‘What if?’ questions usually revolve around what would happen if aspects of our world broke down/changed. Dystopia is perfect for this.

As a compulsive plotter/planner, I’ve been digging up some protips for writing dystopian fiction, and I’m going to share them with you here (also so I don’t lose my notes – but don’t take that personally).

Rules for Writing Dystopian Fiction

  • Generally set in the future
  • Universe has a flawed governing structure
  • Protagonist (Main Character, or ‘MC’) is an ‘everyday’ personThat’s it. Those are your rules. Typically in the future, make your MC a regular kinda person, and make sure you have a flawed government (or whatever is controlling your universe). These 3 things are the key structures behind dystopian fiction.


Okay, I have the rules. How do I write a good dystopian novel?

Never fear, blog readers! I have some tips and tricks and ‘should have‘s along the way to help you get the most out of your future dystopian best-seller (or at least ‘that thing you wrote and put on Amazon that one year‘).

  • Pick a flaw:
    Pick one thing and stick with it. It’ll make it easier for you and easier for the reader. Flaws can be complicated or really simple (but with far reaching consequences). A good example is The Hunger Games. The government has established a class system. The rich are comfortable and safe, the poor are afraid and in poverty conditions close to slavery – the government structure supports and encourages this, which seeds the discontent which fuels the plotline for the books.
  • How does your government act on the flaw?:
    How do they attempt to maintain/restore order? Where does your MC fit in? How has your governing structure tried to compensate for the flaw? (use of force? laws? some other form of control?)
  • Repercussions:
    – How has the flawed government affected everything around it? (Including, but not limited to politics, economics, media, religion, social causes, technological advancement, etc.)
  • Be aware of messages behind flaw:
    – Stay consistent. Dystopian novels are notorious for representing social issues. Think about the message you’re sending to your readers. Are you warning against supporting big governments? Are you rallying for acceptance of refugees? What message are you trying to get the reader to understand, and how will you achieve it? This goes back to picking only one flaw – multiple flaws make this step much harder.
  • Pick a protagonist:
    – Everyday person put into a position where they can make a change. Think about aspects of your MC’s character that make them the best candidate for twisting your plot. Are they a conspiracy theorist? Do they have some latent ability? Do they just have a hidden bravery that hasn’t yet been challenged? Maybe they’re just some poor shmuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they have to be engaging to the reader. What’s going to make your shmuck able to change a world much bigger than they are?
  • A day in their shoes:
    – Show what dystopian world is really like for a regular person (like your MC) before you get into creating drama/change. Go through the protagonist’s schedule or routines. Show us everything that’s right or wrong or fake or broken or shiny about this dystopian setting before you turn everything on its head. Just as your MC needs to be an everyday person, we need to know the setting so we understand that they’re just an ordinary person who’s about to be put into a very extraordinary position.
  • Don’t explain the world:
    – Show, don’t tell. Don’t infodump! Let the reader experience the world, not read it from a guide book. Let us see the world through your reader’s eyes (regardless of whether you write in first or third person – stay in one character’s head at a time!). We want to see this dystopian universe from this regular character who’s living it. We don’t want to read the wikipedia article. We want the video blog, the twitter feed, the instagram #nofilter. Give us the real world, and then let the protagonist twist it inside out.
  • Introduce the plot early:
    – Make sure there are plot indicators in the first few pages. The plot doesn’t need to be tied directly to the flawed government, existing with it is enough, but remember the flaw is central to the genre. Sow the first seeds of dissent early, the little reminders that the author really did build this great big twisting plot arc from that very first chapter. Your MC’s life existed before Chapter 1, but their plotline begins there – not over in Chapter 3. Take us through their normal daily routine, but drop tiny hints of what’s to come. Readers love it, and you’ll love writing it, too.

Well, I hope these bits and pieces are as helpful to you guys as they have been for me. Good luck, and may the word count odds be ever in your favour. – Coralyn

On doing Big, Fun, Scary things

I’ve been doing Nanowrimo a while now, in fact, this is my tenth year. I look forward to site relaunch with something between impatience and excitement. It is the highlight of my October (Halloween isn’t a Big Deal here, sorry America). I’ll be waiting for that email, y’know which one if you’ve done this before. It’s the email that says the site has relaunched. Sometimes this comes before the one from your home region, sometimes after. Knowing me, as one of the ML team, the official one is after our regional email. I’m bringing my excitement to the table in advance. I’m waiting for that beautiful clean forum so I can rush in and email everyone to tell them to come and see it.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’ve been doing Nanowrimo for such a long time now that it is no longer a Big Scary Thing to me. It is a Big Fun Thing. No judgement if you’ve been doing it as long as I have, or longer, and it is still scary. That’s between you and your Nanowrimo. For me, though, I’m just champing at the bit waiting to get started.


In the non-Nanowrimo world, I’ve been making some seriously Big Scary Choices that lead to Big Scary (Fun) Things and I’ve realised that there are probably people out there who saw the email in their inbox and butterflies started. Let’s be honest, for some of us, it was probably tiny ponies running around trashing your insides.

Nanowrimo is Big. Nanowrimo is Scary. Nanowrimo is Fun. It’s all of these things.  If you find that your pie chart  of scary doesn’t look like this:


… Then maybe we need to do a few things to make it better.

Here’s a quick list to at least let you feel like you’ve got your bearings as you go rushing into the wilderness of the Shiny New Forums.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do I have a plot/idea already?

Am I a plotter or a pantser? (Flying by the seat of your pants on Nov 1 for the unfamiliar)

What stands between me and nano success? (I like to identify days were it’s ridiculously hard to write for whatever reason – work/life/family)

Am I going to Kick Off? How about write-ins? 

In my opinion, getting to Kick Off is one of the best parts of the experience. There’s face to face contact and you really get an idea for those other people who will probably be typing back to you during chat. Also, STICKERS.

Do I have writing buddies?

We have a fun thing in Adelaide where some of the nano veterans will make sure the noobies are doing alright and are included in chat. It can be so daunting to come into a new group with lots of old in-jokes that might go back years.

There are a bunch of threads to find writing buddies/mentors/proteges. There’s probably someone out there feeling similarly to you.

Is all your favourite writing software up to date? Do you have a nice journal or book to write in?

If no to the above, time to research a new program? Time to go shopping for the right book?

Have I organised my music playlist?

These are all things that help you feel like Nanowrimo isn’t a Scary Thing. It’s more a bunch of little things that add up to one big thing on November 30th.

Don’t be afraid of the forums. There’s a lot of people who have no idea what they are doing and will be nervously giggling behind their screens. We’ve all been there or are still there.

Nanowrimo is the Big, Fun, Scary Adventure we’re all taking together. anigif_enhanced-buzz-28175-1377619076-11

I’ll hold your hand… For safety…

That slow ascent (or is it descent?)

At this point of the year, Nanowrimo is just around the corner. Pretty much. At the time I started writing this it is

39 days
955 hours
57336 minutes
3440176 seconds
until Nanowrimo starts.

As one of my all time favourite movies indicates I feel like we’re at this point in the game…

Not that I’m counting or anything…
Cause I’m not.
I don’t really have a plot. I have an idea and I have a few little ideas I’d like the chance to develop and work on but there’s nothing that’s making my fingers itch to get started.
This year I’ll be an ML in my region. I’m pretty excited about this. My body is ready to be thrown head first into the Nanowrimo machine.
The forums haven’t been wiped yet but I anticipate that will happen soon enough I think that we’ll be wishing we had more time to plan and get our lives in order before we are thrown in the deep end. Before every waking minute is one more minute of writing and sleep is that mistress we’ll see again in December. Along with our loved ones.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. I wanted to let you know that we’ll be back again this November. We’ve had a crazy year that hasn’t all been completely related to writing and we’re keen for actual writing.
What I wanted to say was “Welcome back!”
We’ll be getting you ready for Nanowrimo 2015! So stay tuned!