How to Win the Race

runnerThose of you keeping score at home know I have been watching from the sidelines, cheering for everyone participating in the Thirty Day Novel challenge. Quite a few members of the writing groups I haunt are playing along this year, each of them committed to completing a fifty-thousand-word first draft of a novel in the month of November.

To be sure, this is no easy task. Pounding out a thousand words in an evening on facebook in itself is not a particular difficult challenge. Anyone who has participated in any of my reddit arguments knows to come with a bucket full of adverbs and a readiness to type, fast and loose. But keeping that sort of pace, well over a thousand words a day over an entire month, many will admit it is far easier said than done.

So, the same as every year, the race starts out fast and strong, I scroll through the pages and see the reinforcements of will power and the inspirational rants, and almost as soon as the starting gun is fired, the resignation letters start to trickle in. Fifty thousand words is too many, the month is too short, the day job leaves no time to write, there’s nothing left to write about anyway. The days progress and more people question their ability to remain committed as more casualties fall off at the sides. It can be disheartening. Here at the end of the month the comments I read are split in three; the folks crossing the finish line with the challenge completed and a clumsy new pile of sentences, spaghettification on their harddrives, the people still writing and pushing through the days and the doubts, and the stragglers who have fallen behind and have given up, some committed to finishing their tales when they find the time, others have grown to hate the words they were writing and the act of creating, and have vowed never to write again.

There is always next year.

And I think I should reiterate here that I don’t think the challenge is in any way impossible, it is not easily accomplished by the uninitiated.

I know a few of the little pieces I have put together have given hope to some writers and seemed helpful, the ‘Two-Headed Writer’ and a few other writings about writing, but I think perhaps I should have started my lessons earlier.

Here’s the thing, we have to complete the training before the start of the race.

And the best lesson I can give and the only one that can be shown by example, is the lesson of consistency, of writing every day.

After a considerable dry spell, I have returned to writing consistently, everyday for the past few months. I made a pledge in one of the writing groups to pound out a thousand words a day, everyday. At first it was a struggle and a task. But once my mind started moving again and my fingers started tapping easier, the movements became fluid and the activity flowed easy. The words seemed to pour out of my head where once I had to pluck them from their vines. Clumsy and awkward.

But the real secret of this trick is, the more accustomed you become to writing everyday, the more natural it becomes, the more a part of you it feels. It becomes more than just typing, it becomes something you have to do. These days, if I am not writing my brain begins to race, my fingers itch and feel cranky. I want to write, I feel congested and interrupted if I don’t.

Writing everyday becomes easier because I recognize what it takes to write everyday and so I seek out inspiration and attempt to employ every writing prompt I encounter. If I’m not typing my fingers get fidgety It’s a bit of a catch 22 or the horse-before-the-cart, but that probably only proves its validity.

So really the lesson to learn here is before you take on a commitment to writing every single you we should first get in shape by writing every day. Exercise for the brain. The marathon is finished one mile at a time. I could scramble to the end of my street if the house were on fire, but a race of any duration would double me over and shoot cold sweat from my forehead.

But when my fingers are accustomed and my words get used to wrapping themselves into intelligible patters, it becomes an engine that likes to keep running. My fingers want to type and so my mind looks for thoughts to throw together and attempts all the different combinations that might make them work.

The easiest way  you can prepare for the Thirty Day novel challenge is to get used to writing everyday. Sixteen hundred Sixty Seven words a day will put you at the finish line on time. The best analogy for this race is how closely it resembles running a marathon. Get your fingers folding easily and set your brain to sort your ideas. Start early, write often. Learn to run, for we will race another day.

©Robert Emmett McWhorter