How NaNoWriMo can Hurt Your Health… and How to Avoid it

Regular readers of this blog (all three or four of you) might recall that for most of this year, I’ve been fighting adrenal fatigue. A quick recap for the rest of you, what this basically means is, I’m tired all the time, even after getting a good night’s sleep. And that’s something that’s also hard to come by, as insomnia is a symptom of adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue also weakens our immune system, as the adrenal hormones are a key part of it, and when we get sick, it takes more out of us, and takes us longer to recover.

Adrenal fatigue is caused by stress, either acute (such as by being in an accident, injury or being ill) or long-term (stressful job, drawn-out divorce, you name it). Our adrenal glands produce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone. It’s also the stress hormone, but we need a certain amount of it to function and have energy. In a normal person, cortisol spikes a couple of hours after rising, then gradually tapers off throughout the day. When I did the 24-hour hormone testing, my cortisol only went up in a very shallow curve.

Our adrenal glands can’t tell the difference between running from a tiger, or coping with a dozen clients all wanting their projects at once, or trying to get 1,667 words done late at night. Go on like this for too long, adrenal fatigue can result. Putting my writing off until the time I should have been going to bed, then forcing myself to get the words down anyway, was a big contributor to my adrenal fatigue.

The NaNoWriMo forums and blogs are full of references to sleep deprivation, drinking lots of coffee, and pulling all-nighters to get those words in, as if these things are some kind of badge of honor. (For the non-writers out there, NaNoWriMo is an international challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.) I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times, and won (i.e., completed 50,000 words in the month) three times. Doing the all-nighter once or twice, or staying up extra late now and then to get the words in is fine, but last year, I was doing the latter almost every day. I won, but it wasn’t worth it–especially because it shouldn’t have been necessary.

I could have avoided all the sleep deprivation if I’d just gotten back into one habit that got me my win the two other times I’d done it: do the writing first. In my case, that means as soon as I get home from work on the weekdays. But last year, I let fear and the inner editor keep me from even getting started until I had to start, or I wouldn’t get my words in at all.

There are tons of resources and blogs out there to help us quash fear and the inner editor while writing, so look those up if you need to. We need to remember to keep these evils at bay when we’re not writing, too, or they’ll keep us from writing at all–or until it’s way late in the day.

50,000 words in a month sounds like a lot. It’s not. When I can keep fear and the inner editor away, I can write that much in about an hour and a half, usually broken up into two or three sessions. Professional fiction writers write this much or more all the time. So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, here are my suggestions:

  • Do the writing first (whether that’s first thing in the day, or first after you get home from work)
  • Ask yourself what do you have to be afraid of? And see how silly most of our fears are.
  • Focus your fears instead on the dangers of not getting enough sleep, and get your writing done early.
  • Kick the inner editor to the curb.

My adrenal fatigue is finally improving. I caught a cold right after my husband broke his arm, so that slowed things a good bit. But he is getting better, and I’m finally starting to get a bit of energy. One thing we like to do is take Isis for a walk. There is a big drainage basin near our house, and when it’s dry, my husband has started taking Isis there to throw balls to her with the ball launcher. It is great exercise for her and she loves it! When she’s tired, she lies down and waits for us to start walking home.

Isis ball 1

Isis ball 2   Isis ball 3

Isis lying down

What I read this week: the short stories and serial portions in Dean Wesley Smith’s Smith’s Monthly #7. His story “A Bubble for a Minute” was absolutely fabulous and gave me chills–in a very good way. It was sort of a time travel thing where, when a certain song was played on a record player, a detail in the past changed. A character was trying to “fix” something in the past, with devastating consequences. This is the kind of thing I write in my Saturn Society stories, and this story reminded me why I love writing them. Worth the price of the magazine alone, but there are also some always fun and entertaining Poker Boy stories, as well as the serials which I’m really liking. I’m reading the novel in the magazine now, which I’ll discuss next week.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: Our offer on the student rental house was accepted–yay!–and at least for now, the paperwork done. I also finished getting the notes on Dean Wesley Smith’s Productivity workshop, so those are two big tasks done, and now I’m getting back to writing more. I did meet my goal this week of finishing the scene and started the next, which netted me about 2,000 words. I averaged 200 words for four days, and wrote about 1200 yesterday. Now it’s time to up the goals–I want to hit 500 words for four days, and get at least one 1,000-word day, for a total of 3,000 words, and write five days out of seven. Oh, and I want to finish the current scene, too. Hopefully I will do more than that.

What about you–have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Did you win? Whether or not you’re a writer, have you sacrificed sleep for a goal–and was it worth it? We are having some great fall weather here in Ohio for walking–how is it where you are? And what do you like to do for exercise? Please share–I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

9 Responses to \

  1. I’m glad you’re feeling better, Jennette. Thanks for the explanation about adrenal fatigue. Yep, I’m sure my long term stress is what caused it for me. I’m doing way better now with the clean eating and no gluten. I fought giving up gluten for years, but when I did and then a month later ate a piece of bread, I was exhausted for three days. It’s like putting a puzzle together sometimes, trying to figure it all out.

    Winning NaNo by killing ourselves isn’t worth it, for sure. Glad you’re going to go at it a different way this time. Sleep is way too important to me. No all nighters, no way! 🙂

    That time travel story sounds great, and those are the kind of things I love in your Saturn Society novels, too. I think it’s such a fascinating concept.

    Have a great week!

  2. 2000 words is good progress. You should hit 500 a day with no problem.

    I’ve won NaNo a couple of times, but after last year’s attempt I decided “NaNoNoMo.” I’m blogging every day, and I figure that’s good enough.

    Too much caffeine damn near killed me and has me hobbling on a cane now. Now I realize how crazy going to extreme lengths to stay awake to do more can be. Your recommendations for doing NaNo are really good ones. Time management is everything when doing NaNo.

    Based on your description, I think I experienced adrenal fatigue a number of years ago, when I was traveling all the time and teaching a class that had a huge backlog. I was doing the class so many times, I’d go to bed and dream that I was teaching it, and wake up wondering when it would be time to go to bed again. Someone asked me a queation and I said “I’ve already answered that,” then realized I had answered it the night before in my dream…

    Cute doggy! Unlike us, dogs have the ability to quit when they’re tired.

    I always stick my internal editor in a round room and tell him there’s a dollar in the corner. Keeps him busy for hours.

  3. Lynn, thanks! You are right, sleep is sooooo important.

    John, you probably did have adrenal fatigue! I think most people experience it at one time or another throughout their lives, but are able to pull out of it when the stressful times are over. Good tip for getting rid of the internal editor – and thanks!

  4. Isis looks so happy playing fetch. We tried to encourage my dog to play fetch, but she’s a beagle and thinks being outside is all about following her nose wherever it leads her–so, needless to say, chasing a ball didn’t interest her. I grew up with an Aussie, though, and he LOVED fetch.

    I understand stress-induced fatigue all too well. For a while I worked three jobs, and it drained me. Even after I cut it down to two jobs, I was still exhausted. Now that I’m able to focus on writing, I’m feeling much better–but it took a few months of being kind to myself to get to that point. Fewer migraines and less fatigue are worth the sacrifice. I actually enjoyed everything I was doing. I just couldn’t do it all at once.

    Congrats on your offer being accepted. Exciting times!

  5. I have done NaNo before (and am doing it again this year) and I completely agree with you that it seems like a higher word count goal than it actually is. Its so nice to see more people finding healthy ways to do NaNo, because I think the event is a great starting point. Sounds like you’ve got a good plan of attack! Hope you have a great week.

  6. Denise – I’ll take fewer migraines and less fatigue any day! We sure can’t do it all at once. And thanks!

    Thanks, Nicole!

  7. Oh your puppy pics always make me smile! I get bouts of fatigue, but adrenal fatigue sounds terrible and I couldn’t imagine doing NaNo feeling like that! I know NaNo starts tomorrow but if I do it this year, I won’t start until the middle of next week because I have a deadline for another project. So really doubting it’s going to happen, because it’s a draining pace. Hope you have a great weekend. 🙂