How to Get In Writing Shape After A Long Absence

Long Distance RunningWriting a novel is like running a marathon. Really. Stop and think about it.

When you run a marathon, you don’t just show up and sign up on the day of the race. It takes weeks, maybe months of training, self-sacrifice, and effort to prepare your body for the ardor of running a mile or five miles or 26.5 miles. You have to train your muscles for sustained effort.

You have to train your lungs and heart and all the associated systems for peak performance.

You have to condition your mind the idea that you can do it.

Sound familiar?

Sustained Absence From the Track

Runners can be sidelined. A simple injury. A complex injury. Life complications. You name it. Things happen that throw them off their routine.

The same for writers.

I spent most of 2015 in a place of creative stillness. I wrote about it here and here and included tips and ideas for others who found themselves in the same place. I learned during those months of writing no fiction that it’s not only possible to survive that kind of creative silence; it’s possible to thrive. I got a lot of things done while I wasn’t writing stories (or painting for that matter, but that’s another tale altogether.) If you’re currently dealing with creative stillness, I’m here to tell you it’s okay.

I’m also here to tell you that you will come out the other side and once again find your creativity stirring. It happened to me. It will happen to you.

For me, it happened when I emailed one of my crit partners to ask her a question about a manuscript I’d sent her early that year or maybe even the year before. She asked me a question in response and before I knew it, we were swapping chapters for critting. I finished what I really hope is the final revision on a story that turned 20 this winter.

It felt good!

It felt so good, I decided to try a new challenge in 2016.

The Challenge

From the first time I participated, I’ve loved NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days was thrilling, intimidating, you name it. It also proved to be not only attainable, but encouraging.

So (I thought) why not try to write a new first draft each month for a year. If it worked, I’d end the year with twelve new stories, which I could then review at my leisure. If they didn’t turn out, that was all right. The chances—as far as I could tell—were that at least one of them would be worth pursuing. The hope was that there would be two to four that were worth pursuing.

What I Forgot

Writing a novel is like running a marathon.

You don’t just show up on race day and expect to do well.

But that’s exactly what I tried to do.

The success of revising a complete manuscript in twelve weeks tricked me into believing I could write fresh stories just as easily and more quickly.

Memories of the days when I wrote three and four thousand words a day also coerced me into believing I could do it again. All I had to do was sit down and start writing.

Or, to refer again to my analogy, just line up at the starting tape and start running. It was a cinch. Right?

What I Learned

Running FeetWriting a novel is like running a marathon.

Runners who don’t run for any length of time get out of shape.

Guess what?

Writers who don’t write for any length of time get out of shape, too.

I made a good start. I wrote for about two hours the first day and wrote enough words to think I was on track.

The next day, not so much.

I wrote six days in a row and it was a little bit more of a struggle each day. It didn’t take long to realize I was like an inexperienced runner—on hands and knees, gasping for breath, muscles cramping. Feeling like I was going to die.

It didn’t take even that long to realize how out of shape I was for high-output, sustained fiction writing.

What I Did

The first thing I did was take a break on the seventh day. That was Sunday anyway, and my day of rest. So I rested.

I intended to continue writing the following week, but Monday passed without any work on my fledgling story. Then Tuesday, then Wednesday.

That week passed and I didn’t do a dad-blamed thing on that story. As you read this post, it’s been two full weeks and all I’ve done is think about that story.

But I also thought about my writing goals.

I realized at once I’d set the bar too high for a writer in my condition; flabby, short of breath, and just generally out of shape.

So I adjusted my writing goals (Yes, you can do that.)

I decided, in short, to work at getting back into shape first.

How I’m Getting Back Into Writing Shape

Runners get into shape by running every day. So that was the first thing I decided. I’d write something every day and it would either be fiction or related to fiction. I’d try not to plan for reasons that will make another good post, but everything else was fair game.

I’d also make things easy by starting small. Just like a marathon runner begins by running short distances, I’d start with relatively easy goals. 700 to 750 words. That’s easy, right? I could do that first thing each day and have lots of time for everything else.

I’d also do some sprinting, just like marathon-runners- in-training do. How? Timed writings. My favorite sprint is fifteen minutes long. I’d try to write 750 words in fifteen minutes every day for one month. January. Thirty-one fifteen minute timed writings every day for January.

I’d write whatever came to mind and I’d do my best to make sure I was writing fiction or fiction-related words for every timed writing. Or as many as possible. I’m writing this post as a timed writing. Hey, it’s fiction-related, isn’t it?

So far, so good.

What I’m Hoping (And Planning For)

My goal for February is to get my writing muscles back in shape slowly and steadily.

My plan for accomplishing that goal is to begin writing a story one fifteen-minute timed writing at a time. Day by day. In small increments.

I haven’t thought much beyond that, but even if that’s all I do for the rest of the year, I’ll have more than enough words written to write a 100,000-word manuscript by the end of the year. I did the math. I should have enough words for four manuscripts that size! How exciting is that?

The Challenge for You

Some of those who responded to our reader survey at the end of last year asked for competitions to keep them motivated.

Well, here you are. This post is for you!

Join me for February and lets do a fifteen-minute timed writing every day. This is a Leap Year, so there are 29 opportunities to write for fifteen minutes.

How the Challenge Works

Decide what you want to do in February. You can follow my example and do a timed writing a day or you can do more more than one. The important thing is that you set a goal.

Share your goal with us by leaving a comment below. I’ve gotten the ball rolling by sharing my goal in a comment.

We all know accountability is a major part of any competition or challenge, so let’s share our progress throughout the month. Let’s keep things simple by using the comment area for updates, too. Share your results every day, every week, or whenever you have something you want to report. Just bookmark this page and check back in!

That’s it! No complicated signup or registration.

So how about you? Are you in this mini-marathon?

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