Well, I planned to write a series of thoughtful blog posts to lead up to this weekend’s Write-a-thon. And then I looked at the calendar, and a week and a half had passed, and I was like, well, damn. So that’s not happening.
But the truth is, we’re days away from hunkering down for a weekend with the goal of writing a draft of something new and slightly outside our usual box, and some preparation is key for crushing the daylights out of it. Here are a few tips that I have for you, based on my last Write-a-thon.
Tips for Crushing the Ever-loving Daylights Out of Your Write-a-thon
- Set a sensible goal. Emphasis here on sensible. No, really, I’m serious. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had way too many instances of setting completely unachievable goals. They’re unrealistic and completely ridiculous. Start small, and surprise yourself by exceeding your (very realistic) expectations.
- Plan a few menu items, make sure they’re easy, and prep them in advance. This can take many shapes. For me, I’ve got big plans to make a crockpot full of hearty vegetarian chili and a batch of ginger cookies. I’ll also have PBJ makings, and frozen waffles, because those are my lazy girl (or! busy, productive girl) fallbacks.
- Have some treats on hand, too. Y’all. Writing is hard. It makes your brain hurt, it can frustrate you, and when the fog rolls in and self-doubt begins to rear its ugly head, I find a well-timed treat helps. Ice cream, cookies, a bag of your favorite chips. Pick your poison, and have a treat on hand.
- Move your body. I cannot say this enough. Writing is hard on our brains, and it’s hard on our bodies, too. Have some yoga planned, or take yourself out for a walk. Something to move your body, stretch out your achy muscles, and clear away some of the writing fog.
- Sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re here to do the work, but we’re not here to screw ourselves up for the next several days after. Sleep through the night, write through the day, and if you need a nap, take it.
- Plan a reward. By the end of last month’s Write-a-thon, I was a bleary-eyed lump of exhaustion. I had written, paced, re-written, questioned myself and my choices in life. I could not do any more. And I needed a reward. Plan it for yourself. Hold it up as the reward that will be waiting for you when you cross the finish line and close your Word processor.
- Pre-write. Whoa, Dana! This is supposed to be a weekend deal, a church lock-in for writers. Pre-write? Yeah, I said it. Think about the last time you sat down at the computer to write something, on a deadline, and confronted a blank document, that cursor blinking at you. That’ll shut anybody down, and it’s unnecessary. In the days leading up to the Write-a-thon, take 15 minutes and pre-write. Describe a setting. Write a bit of dialogue. Use a writing prompt to get yourself going. Take a bit of time and just get your juices flowing. You don’t need to have an ironclad plan for the weekend, but it’s good to warm up those muscles before Saturday gets here.
And to help you along, here are two of my favorite writing prompts, taken from Natalie Goldberg’s excellent book, Wild Mind:
- Set a timer for ten minutes, begin with the phrase “I remember,” and keep going. If you get stuck and feel like you have nothing to write, start again with “I remember” and just write what comes with you. No agenda, no stopping. “I remember…” and go. At the end of ten minutes, take a break. Walk around the house. Don’t speak, just be. And then go back to your desk, set the timer for ten minutes, and begin with the phrase “I don’t remember.” Natalie Goldberg uses this to limber up, and I find it useful too. You can adapt it to fit you, and I sometimes use other phrases she suggests: I see/I don’t see, I know/I don’t know, I want/I don’t want. Write in character, write as you, jump around from subject to subject, just write and see where it takes you.
- Sit down for fifteen minutes, and without stopping, without lifting your hand from the page, start with the phrase “I want to write about…” Be concrete and specific. Don’t resort to abstract philosophies and principles. As Goldberg herself says, “Not ‘I want to write about truth, democracy, honesty,’ but ‘I want to write about the time my father lied right to my face and I could taste it all through dinner. It tasted like hot gasoline.'”
I myself will be limbering up this way, taking a few extra minutes of writing, just to see where my mind wants to go, where I might be headed this weekend. Cooking, writing, and quieting my mind. I can’t wait!