Marathon Writing Techniques and You

This post title originally featured the typo “Marathong”. I had an amusing and uncomfortable vision of a lot of long-distance runners experiencing a lot of chafing.

More importantly, this awkward little non sequitur is a perfect example of a good thing to do when you’re trying to write, and write a lot. Writing smaller pieces (such as blog posts) benefit from careful thought and adjustment as they are being created, writing something much longer though requires you to essentially spam the page. You need to overwhelm yourself with words on a page. It doesn’t matter if it’s all perfect, because chances are if you agonize over a sentence for five minutes before completing it, it will just end up being something you want to change when you come back later on and give your work a first review.

Slow, measured, edited-as-it-goes writing is something for an accomplished (and compensated) author. When you’re still trying to get your chops, the finish line is your target, no matter how ugly and filled with vicious cheating and swearing the race may have been. You’re a busy person, and if you’re not being paid for the work (chances are that you’re not), it’s happening during your free time—and you can’t spend ALL of that time on your writing. Write too much and you miss out on the life that informs and improves that writing. You need to write like a maniac until you’re done to ensure that you have time for yourself and nothing jumps in the way and distracts you from your project.

So, like any race, you should prep before you sit down to write. In my recent NaNoWriMo fervor (16,130 words and counting, thank you very much), I have honed my method.

Before You Start

– Check all your e-mail accounts. Respond to anything that catches your eye. This way you can avoid thinking about it.

– Check all your social networking sites. Anything where you might want to talk to you friends or can refresh obsessively to see the next new bit of information.

– Cue up your music playlist. Make sure whatever it is is long enough that it covers the entire time you’ll be writing. You don’t want a search for new tracks to distract you from the task at hand.

– Grab a snack, or have a snack at hand. Same for some water. Typically I’d say avoid something that will make you twitchy like caffeine—but that doesn’t always apply. I can really only handle coffee when I’m IN a coffee shop. Being in one is Pavlovian for me. I only go there to write, so I’m immediately in writing focus mode, caffeine or no caffeine.

– Set your writing program so that it covers your entire computer screen as best it can. It should appear to be the only object worth focusing on in front of you.

While You’re Writing

– Be disconnected from the internet.

– Be away from a TV.

– Have your phone on silent.

– Don’t get up.

– Don’t rewrite sentences (unless they’re just nonsense).

– Don’t stop.

Just keep writing. If you get into an ugly spot, you’ll get out of it by powering through it. If you stop short, the problem doesn’t go away, it just gets more cemented. Thinking too hard about the writing is, oddly enough, not helpful. You’re far too close to the material at this point in time to know if it’s good or bad anyway, so what’s the point in agonizing about it?

Allow yourself to write anything and everything and have the faith that you’ll be able to make it work. After all, even if you have the best outline in the world, there comes a point in time where you’re making it up as you go. You’re improvising, so take it all the way there. When a thought occurs to you (like how “marathong” could make a funny intro sentence), go with it and let yourself find the way. You’ll gain confidence and get closer to being done without slowing down.

And on that note… I’ve got another few hundred words to cram onto a page.

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