Sprints Aren’t Just for Running

Stacey Kite

To me, writing and running have a lot in common. For the most part, they are solo endeavors. Listening to music is a must for me when doing either one, and I do both very slowly. And above all, the key to both is persistence.

I first got interested in running when I saw a man at the gym get on a treadmill and just go. He ran forever, effortlessly—no panting, no wheezing, no dropping dead. It was amazing. I was envious because I figured there was no way in the world that I could ever do anything like that. But then one morning, when the gym was deserted except for my husband, Fred, and I, I sheepishly got on a treadmill. After walking for a few minutes to figure out how to keep from face planting, I started to run. Seven minutes later, I was panting and wheezing with a killer stitch in my side. Obviously, I didn’t die, but it felt like a near thing. I could have given up right then. I can’t remember why I didn’t, but for some reason, I became more determined instead.

My first running goal was modest: to run one mile without feeling like Fred would have to call 911. Because I was so pathetic at it, I didn’t want anyone other than Fred to see me trying. (For safety’s sake, someone had to be there in case I really did need paramedics at some point.) So we started going to the gym at o’god-thirty in the morning when we knew it would be empty. (Fred is fabulous!)

At first, I’d run for three minutes, then walk for seven to recover, then rinse and repeat for an hour. Every week or two I’d increase the running intervals by 15 seconds and decrease the walk times by the same amount. Here and there I backslid, and it was always painful for a few days when I shifted times. There were plenty of mornings when I really didn’t want to go to the gym, but Fred got me through those days. If he was up and ready to go when the dog was still blissfully snoring and the bats were out, I couldn’t very well pass. With his help, I persisted and was eventually running for an hour straight without wheezing, gasping or dying of embarrassment. And there were even days when it just. Felt. Great!

Writing is the same for me in the sense that though there are times when it’s a joy, there are plenty of other times when I just don’t want to do it because I know it’s going to be frustrating and painful. But I also know I’ll never reach my writing goals without consistently working at it.

That’s where my writing buddy comes in. Though we live in different time zones, every morning we text each other to coordinate a time for a 30-minute writing sprint. (See—sprints aren’t just for running.) It’s like going to the gym together, only different. At the appointed time, when we both have a cup of tea, our respective computers fired up and our timers set, one of us texts go and we both start writing.

When times up, we text each other our results—how many words we wrote, net and/or gross, whether we flew or flailed or if we wasted 15 minutes trying to come up with a middle grade appropriate synonym for torpor. I normally score in the double digits while she is usually in the 150 to 200 range, but once I got 288 words! Which felt great, though I’ve also wound up with a net negative word count on my write-and-delete days.

If we both have a decent session and time permits, we’ll do one or two more follow-up sprints. If one of us is has a truly crappy session—like one of those net negative days—we’ll call and try to talk through the problem. Sometimes the other person has a perfect, simple solution. Sometimes the mere act of having to explain the issue is enough to spark inspiration. Even if we can’t find a good answer right then, it just helps to commiserate with someone who understands how frustrating writing can be.

Of course, the final word count really isn’t the point of the exercise. It’s putting in the time and working at it day after day that matters. That’s the only reliable way to make progress. And it’s a lot harder for me to procrastinate when I know my sprint buddy is counting on me to show up each day.

So, if you find yourself procrastinating instead of writing, try doing some writing sprints with a friend. It doesn’t matter if you live 2000 miles away from each other, you can still keep each other on track.

Write By Midnight Pep Talk 9-27-2021

Whether it’s dialogue, transitions, rushing through a scene, anticlimactic action sequences or showing vs. telling, every writer struggles with some aspect of their craft. Don’t waste your precious time drafting scenes you know miss the mark. Dedicate some time now to overcoming your weaknesses. Writers are generous when it comes to sharing tips of the trade. Spend time finding blogs and podcasts by writers for writers. Take advantage of the archive keyword search feature to hone in on the area you want to improve. Find resource books dedicated to becoming a better writer and read the chapters that cover the skill you want to develop. Chances are, you’ve also read books by authors who did a good job of writing the way you want to write. Revisit those books and study their techniques. Write by Midnight 2022 will be here before you know it. Use the coming months to learn, practice and improve so you can make the most of our next write-a-thon.

Practical Prompt 9-2-21

It’s important that the different POV characters in your story all read as different people. To practice making your character’s distinct, take a sentence or paragraph from your story that describes one character’s action, paying careful attention to your word choice and sentence structure. Now, write another character performing the same action. How would this character do and think differently than the first character? Did you find yourself using different words to describe the action? Were your sentences shorter or longer for the second character? These small changes add up to create a unique voice.

Playing Professor

Megan Norris Jones

The oppressive heat of summer gave way just a bit over the weekend, and I felt the first hint of cooler weather. It was enough to turn my mind to the fall and all the back-to-school habits this season ingrained in me throughout the years (and years!) of my education. Unfortunately, I don’t have a professor laying out a syllabus of lectures, readings, and assignments that will have me rolling into December a better writer. Nope. I’ve just got me. But lucky for you, you’ve got me, too, and I’ve put together a syllabus that will keep me on track for the next four months, at least. Feel free to copy it and tweak it to fit your own needs and schedule.

The first component of any good class is the lecture. I’ve had a number of writing podcasts I’ve listened to over the years, but the one I’ve stuck with through it all is Writing Excuses. This season each of the hosts is taking turns leading a master class on a topic of their choosing, and the result is excellent.

Weekly Lectures:
Writing Excuses Podcast

Why is school better than independent study? Classmates! My school memories don’t center around lectures but rather the relationships I built with friends along the way, so my self-designed syllabus definitely includes peer interactions.

Group Work:
Participate in weekly WriteOwls check-in for writing accountability
Participate in monthly critique group

Books on writing never cease to provide me with inspiration and practical advice on how to improve my craft. I have a stable of favorites that I return to, but I have several on my TBR list that it’s high time I sat down in read, so they’ll act as the textbooks for my semester. I’ve structured my deadlines so that I can focus on my reading during holidays when I know I typically don’t get a lot of writing done. That way I won’t let my head get out of the game.

Understanding Show Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy
Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The core of a writing class is the writing, so most of my assignments focus on this aspect. During the course of the semester I intend to complete a draft of my WIP, get the first 30 pages critiqued, polish the entire manuscript, and submit it to 10 agents. I’ve broken my assignments into the components necessary to get this work done and scheduled writing time into my week, taking into account my other obligations. If I follow my schedule, I should get 5-7 dedicated writing hours per week, plus whatever other time I can scrounge. 

Complete current revision of WIP
Send first thirty pages out for critique
Polish first 30 pages
Polish query letter
Polish remaining pages
Submit manuscript to 10 agents (includes selecting agents)

When I first wrote down my goals for the semester, it was a longer list than what made it into the final syllabus. Putting writing time on my calendar and being realistic about what I can accomplish with my time made me realize that I just couldn’t get it all done in the time I have set aside. That doesn’t mean I can’t do it all. It just means I can’t do it all this semester. But no worries. That’s the beauty of self-education—there’s always another semester.

Goals for next semester:
Finish outline of next manuscript

The act of sitting down, writing out my goals, and then actually putting them on the calendar forced me to consider what time I’m committing to writing and make a firm plan for how to accomplish my goals. If you’re feeling adrift in your writing process or discouraged about ever actually finishing your manuscript, consider drawing up your own syllabus. It’s a process that’s brought my writing goals and realities into sharp focus, and I highly recommend the clarity that follows.

Share Your Favorite Book and Promote Literacy

Commit to promoting literacy by donating a book to commemorate #InternationalLiteracyDay. Schools, public libraries, prisons, non-profits that resettle refuges or work with populations that do not speak English as a primary language which all run some form of literacy program. @worldliteracy is also a great resource. Sharing the books you love with others is a great way to promote literacy.