How Weight Loss And Writing A Novel Are Similar

One week in to NaNoWriMo (50,000 words of fiction in 30 days), and I am struggling. No surprise as this is my first attempt at long fiction. The more I push and try tips and tricks from the NaNo forums and Twitter feeds, the more frustrated I become. This weekend I had some insight between moments of swearing. Flying without a net (no plan) spells doom for a newbie novel writer. I went into the process with a vague idea, meaning a situation (kinda), two main characters (sorta), a goal to reach 50,000 words but no method to get there other than to write 1667 words a day. I was waiting for my muse to appear, for the writing to reveal the plot and subplots, for the fun to begin. Muahahahahaha! (An attempt at an evil laughed learned from playing online games.)

Sound familiar? Something like, “I want to lose XX number of pounds by a certain date. Here I go!” Using such a nebulous weight loss approach, one only has a number on a scale and a finishing date as goals. There is no plan, no behavioral framework to reach those ultimate goals. This can lead to trying various approaches – WW, low-carb, vegan, primal, etc. – accompanied by scrambling for support on the Internet or perhaps attending in-person groups. Frantically grasping at life lines as the days go by, you remain focused solely on the scale. Self-comparison to others who are zooming along leads to demoralization. Remembrances of prior attempts to lose weight, perhaps with success but always with regains, become pervasive. Demoralized, you give up.

Motivation isn’t enough. Once you have developed your internal motivation (look here if you need some help), you must have a plan that works for you, and it has to be in place before you start. Also, you should be prepared for pitfalls and places to turn to for help when the inevitable plateaus and discouraging moments hit.

There is no one-size-fits all (I hate clichΓ©s…) eating plan for losing weight. Science shows this is true. Calories in do not = calories out for everyone, especially for those of us with many fat cells in our bodies. This is not an excuse to forgo exercise or count calories. It is a recommendation to watch the quality of food (macronutrients) as well as quantity. What has worked for me won’t be palatable for many. What works for Dr. Oz is not compatible with my body. Find a food plan. Find a physical activity regimen. Then utilize the Processes of Change to drive yourself forward and keep moving to make this plan part of your life.

So what am I doing for NaNoWriMo now? I have scaled back my expectation to hit 50,000 words in by November 30. I have found two sites (they are linked below) that have been helpful to develop an outline and structure tailored for NaNo. (I have no less than a dozen books on how to write fiction and have down loaded 3 more, but those have to wait, no time to read now.) By tomorrow I will start writing again. I doubt this effort will ever get out of my computer, but the process of learning how to plan a long work of fiction and writing in concentrated efforts on one project will leave me with a sense of accomplishment and give me an idea if I want to pursue the novel form. Oh, I am still playing with the forums and twitter sites. They are fun; the company is great; the writing prompts are hysterical (kill someone with a shovel in the next 15 minutes); and I am ignoring those who write 4,000 words a day and brag about it. Show offs. (Remind me to tell you about my 2-pound weight gain…)

Nanowrimo: Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet

How To Create A Plot Outline In 8 Easy Steps


21 thoughts on “How Weight Loss And Writing A Novel Are Similar

  1. I have a shelf full of writing books, yet none of them have written my books for me. And I can’t find the receipts to return them! πŸ™‚

    Good job on recognizing that you needed to take one step back so that you can move forward again!

    • But you are writing a book, aren’t you? Your blog alone has enough information, humor, and plot that some publisher should find your work worthy. Hey, it would be another one of those well paying jobs to add to your list πŸ˜‰

  2. one way to write a book – same place, same time, every day. with a plot outline, conflict both internally and externally. No other programs open at only 2 pages a day you would have 365 pages in half a year. In another six months, a decent third draft.

  3. Great post! So true about internal motivation as applied to all aspects of life. You are not alone, I struggled so bad to write the first 1,500 words and at day 8, am well behind the recommended wordcount. Twitter has been so fun…well apart from THOSE updates πŸ˜‰ Keep going and good luck!

    • Good luck to you, too. I really like the look of your blog – not to mention that I enjoy reading your posts.

      Old timer’s disease accounts for my “snagglewords”.

      • Lol, good to know I’m not an isolated sufferer of snagglewords. Thanks for the kind words about my blog, you may have gathered that I’m already a fan of yours!

  4. This is a great post. I NEVER understood the x pounds by x day thing. It seemed to be a setup for failure, but everyone did it.

    I learned of NaNo when I started my doctorate…a horrible time to commit to writing anything other than, um, doctoral stuff. But I’ve always wanted to do it, and have promised myself that I will one day.

    Good luck.

  5. I’m sure this is frustrating. In fact, I know it is. And scaling back the goal is often more frustrating than the idea of not meeting the original goal. I am, however, pleased to see you’re moving forward. I’m just not that into fiction — writing it or reading it. I like my fiction on screen, but I do love me some non-fiction books. Love them!

    • I must admit that it would be so much easier (I think…) for me to write non-fiction since that is what I have done for over 20 years, but in the form of academic articles, my own grants, even curricula for medical students. When I changed my career from an academic doc who saw patients and taught to one who did research and taught, I went back and got a PhD. Must say the most daunting aspect was writing my dissertation – the length overwhelmed me. I didn’t need 300 pages to say what I needed!

    • One of the main reasons your blog is so popular is because of your creativity and your ability to express yourself so clearly. I wonder what it is you are writing beside Monday and Thursday blog posts?

    • But in a way, you’ve written much much more than 50,000 words. The totality of your blog posts are far more than that. And actually, I bet if you were to sort all of your posts into categories, there’d be more than enough fodder for a book or collection of essays.

  6. There are so many novelists out there – some churning out book after book, some painstakingly choosing each word. Some use a computer, others handwrite on yellow tablets. Some can see the story as a whole in front of them and some write to see what will happen next. I think that each writer must find the way that works. I suspect that is one of the hardest parts of writing. And, as you point out, to losing unwanted pounds.

    • It’s amazaing how Stephen King can churn out quality novels (not just horror stories). But, he started writing as a youngster. His book “On Writing” was an interesting peek into his life and approach.
      Quieting my inner editor has been helpful just to get words out. I gotta admit though that finding a concept “worthy” (or at least interesting enough to me) to write about is my biggest barrier to getting started. I blame medicine and science for ruining my imagination. JUST KIDDING!

  7. Writing a book is much harder than I thought. Although not all blog posts come easy to me – I have no idea why on earth I thought I’d be able to get a book written! NaNoNeNo (or whatever it’s called) has always scared me because of the immensity of it. Kudos to you Jan for even trying! πŸ™‚

  8. You learn so much about your own writing style and strengths and weaknesses when you try and construct something so immense for the first time. Many writers get to the end and realize what they really should have outlined, plotted, or done differently at the beginning.

  9. I love this!! I did NaNoWriMo several times and I know just what you mean. I didn’t every get to the word count goal, but I did actually get at least two viable ideas fleshed out. They would have certainly just stayed in my head if not for the NaNo. I like that you’re allowing yourself to shift your goals to what will work for you.
    I really hope you get something you like out of it! That’s totally worth the torture.
    And I’m totally using the link for structure you found. Thank you!!! This month I decided to do an alternate version of NaNo(Prog)Mo…Progress on an already started novel. I’m stuck at the structure. I have lots of pages from the NaNoWriMo that started it.
    And you also gave me just the reminder I needed (desperately) to get my diet back on track. I seems like I should know that after so many years of doing this, but I keep forgetting. The plan!! The committment.
    thanks…(sorry this is so long..)

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