Writing Like a Marathoner

My writing year is off to just about as slow a start as I’ve ever had. Yes, I’ve been working out and keeping pretty well to my other resolutions, but my plan to write half a million words this year has not seen much traction at all so far. That said, I still plan to achieve this goal. I’m already a week behind, but I can get this done. And I probably need to let go of the concept of being “behind” right now.

The idea of setting a major output goal for the year came to me from the talented and prolific western writer James Reasoner, whose work (and work ethic) I admire. Reasoner reported on his blog in early December that he had written over a million words in 2017, and that this would be the thirteenth year in a row that he had accomplished the feat.

Well, a million words is a lot.

The average genre novel is in the neighborhood of eighty-thousand words, so a million words would add up to ten novels, a handful of stories, and still have enough verbiage left over for miscellaneous articles and blog posts. That’s the sort of output you can use to build a career as a professional writer, which is precisely what Reasoner has done.

I admire that and want to do it myself. In fact, I will still do it.

ancient marathoner

But writing is like working out. You can’t run a marathon if you haven’t been going for much shorter runs most days of the week. So, that’s where I’m starting. Doing a bunch of shorter writing sessions, but doing them on a consistent and regular basis.

It’s what Ray Bradbury told me to do all those years ago when I was blessed to spend an afternoon talking shop with him. He said “vomit in the morning and clean up at noon.” He said shut off the internal editor and let the words flow out of you like a babbling brook. He said when he was starting out to be a professional writer he decided to write a short story a week. He knew some of the stories wouldn’t be any good. Maybe most of them wouldn’t be good. But he figured that if wrote over fifty stories a year, at least some of them would be good. He reasoned that some of them might even be very good. Of course, he was write.

Writing is an art. Writing requires inspiration and creativity.

But we overestimate the importance of all mystical mumbo jumbo.

Really, writing is like any other work.

It’s about discipline and determination. It’s about getting your butt into the chair. It’s about opening your word processing application and making your fingers move over the keys of your laptop.

That’s how you get it done.

I did the math. To write a million words in a year, you need to write nearly three thousand words every day. To write a half million words, like I want to do, you only need to write half that. You have to crank out 1500 words every day. That’s not so much. When I’m writing steadily and not stopping to ponder life, the universe, and everything, I can write that much in a couple hours pretty easily. But to reach the goal of half a million words in a year, you have to write every day.

Yes, every single day. You don’t get days off. James Reasoner doesn’t take days off. Stephen King doesn’t take days off. In fact, I bet most writers whose names we know, most writers who make a real career out of it, don’t take days off. They get their work done.

If you take days off, you’ll fall behind. Worse, if you take days off, you’ll weaken your writing habit. One day off leads to a long weekend. Before you know it, you’re taking whole weeks off from writing. You’re getting out of shape.

The next time you sit down to write, you’re slower to get writing. If you’re the type who over-thinks things, you might even feel guilty for not having written. You might start thinking about how far behind you’ve gotten. There is no “behind.” Those self-recriminations are meaningless. All they do is get in the way of your writing.

Today is the day. It’s the first of many, but it’s the only one that matters at the moment.

Just write.