The Post NaNo Blues

When I was younger, roughly from the ages of 14 to 19, I danced a lot. I took 3 to 5 lessons a week, helped out with children’s classes, took summer intensives with my studio and the local university, performed dozens of places, and basically had the time of my life during those years. Being rather shy, and in those days with even worse anxiety than I have now, performing in front of people was always a high stress time. Eventually, though, I really came to love performing as much as anything else, and the rush of adrenaline that came from it became something I looked forward to, rather than something that was guaranteed to trigger hyperventilation and the fetal position.

What I never came to love, and what no other dancer, musician or performer I ever met came to love or even like, was what was called the post-performance blues.

It’s fairly self-explanatory, but for the sake of flow, let me explain a little anyway. There is a lot that goes into and builds up to a performance. There are the lessons, of course, then the planning and choreography, weeks and weeks of practicing, polishing, alterations, meeting musicians, more alterations, more practice, polishing, costumes, make-up tests, sets, entrances and exits, tech rehearsals, dress rehearsals… By the time we get to the actual performance, we’re so dizzy and tired already, it’s sometimes a bit of a miracle whatever we’re performing doesn’t fall apart at the seams the first time or two. But we’re finally performing, and the high of having an actual live audience is amazing.

The problem is, at least for amateurs who don’t have a regular show to do over and over, that once that high is gone, there’s nothing to cushion the coming down phase. For students who perform, generally their whole year leads up to that performance, and at best you have a week or two of classes before you’re off on break, with nothing to do but wait for classes to start again.

What does any of this have to do with National Novel Writing Month? Well, after participating in NaNo for eight years, I’ve noticed some pretty close parallels.

NaNoWriMo is a high energy, high output month of writing with the intent of getting down 50,000 words (or more) in 30 days. This is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint, but NaNo has its own kind of high. It’s a performance of sorts, with writers pitting themselves against themselves, challenging themselves to do more than they ever thought possible. This is much the same mentality of a performer, to push and do better than you ever have before. And, much like with performers, or at least the amateur ones, once the performance is done, you’re dropped back into normal life. It’s a bit like being dropped into cold water after a run, and is just about as pleasant.

In post-performance blues, there’s a high risk of depression setting in. After all that work and build up, and then that amazing high, now there’s nothing at all to do. For a lot of participants of NaNo, much the same happens. December tends to be thought of as a month of editing, and the site does its best to push that, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who takes December as a time to chill out after a month of constant word grind. Unfortunately, this leaves you wide open to the post NaNo blues.

So, how to avoid this terrible malady?

Well, keeping with the parallel between writing and performance, the best way to shake post performance blues was to not let yourself stay stagnant for too long. But after a month long marathon, who’s going to want to be picking up their pen again right away? I’m sure there are more than a few such super humans, but I’m not one of them. For us mere humans, we need something a little different.

When in the dance scene, the way to stay active was to, well, stay active, but with things that were a little different and usually gentler than what you’d just gone through. Yoga, a dance class in a kind of dance you’re unfamiliar with, martial arts, (yes, it can be considered gentler depending on the kind of dance and the kind of martial arts), or even things like an art class. It was a way of remaining creative and keeping from sinking too far into a funk now that your high had gone.

With writing, and NaNo in particular, it’s much the same. Stay active, stay creative, but be a little different so it still feels like a break to your poor worded out brain.

The sort of activities that I tend to gravitate towards right after NaNo – other than sleep and binge eating – all have to do with writing, but touch as little as possible on whatever I had decided to work on in November.

  • A change of scene.
    Basically ‘more of the same,’ but just a different project. I always have multiple projects going on at once, and once I’ve gotten burned out on one, there’s always more to pick from if I want to keep word grinding. Honestly this is one of my least used ways of taking a rest while staying in the loop. It’s often the one I want to so the most, to feel the most productive, but it offers the least in the way of rest after a pure month of word grind.
  • Editing.
    This is what a lot of folks do in December, but I find that editing what I just got done writing isn’t any sort of break, and trying to edit so soon after writing usually backfires on me. Instead, I’ll edit projects that have had a chance to cool down. But, if editing your NaNo so soon works for you, go for it!
  • Poetry.
    Again, this isn’t something I do that often, just because poetry isn’t something I do often period, but it works well as a change of creative pace. It forces you to think in a different way than prose fiction.
  • Flash fiction and drabbles.
    Flash and drabbles are both short, complete stories, with word counts of anything from 300 to 1,500 words for flash, and exactly 100 words for drabbles. If you overwrite like I do, this provides a great challenge to limit yourself, and is a nice way to clear out a bunch of ideas without committing to a huge word count.
  • Reading!
    Kind of obvious, right? But seriously, after putting out so many words, it’s a good idea to sort of ‘refill’ by reading someone elses words. You’ve been outputting for a month, now is a time for some input. Plus it’s nice to count this as still working while giving yourself a treat.
  • Reviews.
    More than just putting out reviews of other people’s work for the sake of putting out those reviews, it’s good to look at the work of others with a critical eye. It’s good practice for how you should also scrutinize your own work, gives you an idea of issues to avoid, and will also give a good idea of how to do some things. There’s nothing wrong with taking a close look at the structure of published fiction, and will in fact be helpful to you later. Plus, it’s always nice to provide thoughts for future readers on a book, and even to authors. Just remember to be respectful! :)
  • Blogging!
    If you have a blog, it’s probably been languishing a little bit over November, so why not give it a little love now? It’s a different kind of writing, gives you some mental breathing room, and if it’s a writing blog, still gives it some focus. It’s what I’m doing this month!
  • Reading blogs.
    I focus on reading blogs of my favorite authors or recently discovered authors. Many of them provide tips to fellow writers, and even if they don’t they keep you updated on future works of theirs’ to look forward to. Plus, as we all are aware, being a writer can be incredibly insulating, even coming away from NaNoWriMo, a huge group event, one can feel very, very alone. Reading the everyday words of fellow authors is a way of keeping contact with the writing community.
  • TV time!
    This might seem like a cop out, but TV and movies provide you with input, just like reading does. And even if you can’t say that TV and movies gives you a good refill – and I still think it does, 90% of the time. It’s a good break.
  • Arts and crafts.
    It’s definitely different, while still being creative. It’s doesn’t have to be anything huge like sweeping landscapes in oils. I usually go to knitting, cross stitching or sketching. But I would say even coloring books would count here, adult or children’s. Plus coloring will help take down any lingering anxiety from November.
  • And now for something completely different.
    Go for a walk. Or a jog. Go visit some friend and family, remind them that you’re alive. Go shopping, or window shopping. Take a boating class, or scuba diving. Go out there and do something far away from your writing, and let yourself relax and think of something different. It’s okay. You’re allowed to. (Plus, it provides experience for future works. ;D) Fall in love, fall out of love, get pissed, get happy, just get out and about, away from the screen and the notebooks for a while. It’ll still be there when you get back.

However you decide to unwind after NaNoWriMo, just make sure it’s something you enjoy. You’ve had a hard month, and even if you didn’t make the 50k goal, you deserve the rest. It really is okay.

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