Three weeks ago I completed my first half marathon. With a milestone birthday looming, I decided that I needed to accomplish something monumental before the big day. So I selected something popular in my area: a distance race.
The lessons I learned leading up to and during that event apply equally well to writing. First, you need a plan. I didn’t simply show up at the race expecting to run 13.1 miles without any preparation. No, I endured a four-day per week running schedule for seventeen weeks. The same is true with writing, whether you’re blogging, composing your memoir, or writing a fictional novel:
- Develop a writing schedule – determine the time of day, how many days a week, and the duration of each writing session.
- Document your schedule – obviously, there will be days that something unexpected happens, but visually seeing the writing sessions on your calendar lends mental credibility, responsibility, and motivation.
- Notify others – Whether it’s your spouse, kids, a next-door neighbor and/or several close friends, let them know your writing schedule. This not only prevents them from unintentionally calling or dropping by while you’re writing, but it also enables them to encourage you throughout the writing process.
Second, you need to implement the plan. The previous points won’t do you any good if you don’t actually apply them. If all I had done was write down my training schedule and tell my friends that I was training for a race, I never would have crossed the finish line. Why? Because I would have neglected the most important aspect: hitting the pavement and actually running. Believe me, there were many days that it was raining, or it was windy, or I simply didn’t feel like running. But I did it anyway. I had a goal, and I kept my eyes on the end result. I have found that to be true with my writing as well. When I have writer’s block or I’m unusually busy (such as the current holiday season), I tend to find excuses why I shouldn’t write as planned. However, I have learned through experience that it’s ultimately more rewarding, and the process goes much more smoothly, when I type regularly.
Third, work gradually but steadily. When I began my running schedule, I was only going two miles at a stretch. Every two weeks, I gradually increased the mileage until finally I was able to run the full 13.1 miles on race day. If you feel overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start, just write something – anything. Simply write down whatever first pops into your head – it will inevitably lead to additional ideas. You might find that you’re only able to write in small blocks of time, but if your schedule allows, try to plan nonessential activities after your writing time. This gives you the freedom to continue writing past your designated timeframe on days when your creative juices are overflowing.
Fourth, and finally, you need to finish. On race day, I was so nervous that I was tempted not to go. By mile ten, I was exhausted and wondering what in the world ever possessed me to attempt something so grueling. And throughout the last mile, as I woefully huffed and puffed my way to the finish line, a number of racers simply stopped running and walked the remainder of the course. Yes, some may have had physical ailments that prevented them from running across the finish line, but undoubtedly some of them just gave up. This can be applied to writing as well. Sometimes we writers are our own worst critics. We may have labored over our work for weeks, months or years and yet at the end we hesitate submitting our work because we don’t consider it to be “good enough” for various reasons. Or maybe we’ve received multiple rejection letters, and we’re afraid of getting another one (or no response at all). If this describes you, I encourage you to continue to submit your work. Yes, rejection stings, but it’s also an opportunity to learn how to write better. Ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?
How do you schedule your writing time? What motivates you to continue writing? Please share your comments!