Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Training for the Writer: How to get to the finish line!

Sometimes you need a goal, a reason to commit...

After months of wanting to do nothing more than curl up on the couch, wrapped in a warm blanket, binge-watching The Walking Dead on Netflix and eating comfort foods like ice cream, we realize maybe all that sitting around and eating ice cream wasn’t the best idea. (Anyone who goes swimsuit shopping in March will back me up here, am I right?)

Snow is finally melting and we are all starting to come out of our winter cocoons and even though the thermometer doesn’t say it, the calendar does: it’s spring. And with spring, we have the start of Race Season.

To get myself back in shape after a slothy winter, I sign myself up for a race. This spring is no exception. I will be doing my sixth half-marathon in mid-May. My very first one was in 2004 when I still had the baby weight from my first born, who was by then a preschooler. I needed a goal and a reason to commit to working out. By signing up for a half-marathon, I had a date and finish line to work toward. My goal was to finish- to walk all 13.1 miles. But as I got stronger, the running got easier and I ran more and walked less. I was thrilled to finish that first race with a time of 2:21:44.

Via Elvert Barnes, used under Creative Commons Licence

You can’t be called a novelist until you have finished a novel.

I’m sure you have heard, “If you write, you are a writer.” It’s along the same idea as, “If you run, you are a runner.”

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Just running to get to the bus or to get in the door of the ice cream shop before they close is not the same as being a runner. You need to do it with purpose. Writing is the same way. Writing out a daily to-do list does not make you a writer. (Though my to-do lists can take on quite an epic length…) Writing with the purpose to entertain, teach or inform your readers, whether that’s crafting a great blog post, snappy company copy, or the next “Great American Novel,” makes you a writer.

With running, just because there are other runners out there, no one cares how fast you run. That finish line is for you and you alone. With writing, no one cares if you finish your novel. Getting to the end is for you and you alone.

Did you know that about 80% of the US population thinks they have a book in them, but most never start or finish it? That is why having a plan is so important. You have to plan to finish that novel.

Via Daniel Mitchell, used under Creative Commons License

Writing is like training for a race. Here’s how to write and finish that novel:

1. Register - When you decide to do a race, pick the event date, race length and host city, whether it’s one you know or want to travel to.

When you write, you need to choose your genre- fantasy, historical, etc.- and your audience. Are you writing for 8-11 year olds? Teens? This will help you determine your word goal and style.

2. Regimen - A quick online search gives many 8 to 16 week training plans you can follow. Pick one that fits your fitness level and goal, as well as lifestyle.

Are you writing for pleasure or deadline? When do you want to finish? Will you make daily word count goals or time goals? How will you hold yourself responsible? Make a star chart where you get a sticker for each day of writing goals met, get a writing buddy to check in with you to harass you, or pretend you have a stern editor waiting for your pages.

3. Run - It’s time to actually do the work. Get out there and run, but don’t forget rest days.

By now you should have your schedule set up so you know when you will write. Will you be writing first thing in the morning (the “5am writing club” is really a thing, I’m sure full of crazy sleep-deprived people…), over your lunch hour or maybe after everyone else in your house goes to bed? Have an idea, but remember to be flexible. If you oversleep and miss your morning writing time, squeeze it in after dinner. And if you need a day off, take it! It’s okay to take a rest day if you sense “burn out” creeping in.

4. Race - As you stand at the start line, remember that you have trained for this. That finish line is in reach. You can do it!

This is the final big push to finish what you started. You’re not going to be one of those writers with an unfinished manuscript languishing in a drawer. If you think you’ll have trouble making it to the end, call in that writing buddy to yell at you and drag, er, I mean, coax and nudge you to the finish line when you write “the end”.

5. Rejoice - Congratulations! You finished! Go out and celebrate! And then sign up for your next race.

Now that you have finished that novel, you are a novelist! Doesn’t that feel fabulous to say? Celebrate! Tell everyone you know! And now go back to the beginning to start editing.

See you at the finish line!

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