Preparing for the NanoWrimo Marathon

typewriter-270x300The Baltimore Running Festival just concluded last week. I am terribly proud of all of my friends who ran their own race during the event. It was just a year ago that I participated, and to be honest, I missed it this year. As the emotions from a little regret and envy begin to settle, I am left with a resolve to run again. It’s such a healthy thing to do for the mind, the body, and the spirit.

No brainer, right? That’s what I’m thinking, too. The training can be really challenging at times, and setting out to run 13+ miles at one time (and on purpose) is just a little crazy.

We do it anyway. It’s in our blood, our nature, to do what we can to stay well.

There’s another kind of marathon coming up that I am participating in, and that’s NanoWrimo, or National Novel Writing Month.

The basic premise is this: write a book that’s at least 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,666 words a day. You can’t begin until the stroke of midnight on Nov. 1, and you shouldn’t stop until you finish by 11:59 p.m., Nov. 30.

Preparation is no different for this kind of marathon: exercise daily, make strategic plans, and get in good physical condition.

Exercise (Write) Daily

Instead of running 3 miles a few times each week, writers participating in NanoWrimo write 1,000-2,000 words daily in the weeks and months leading up to Nov. 1. The writing is not supposed to be brilliant prose, but it is supposed to be purposeful, where there are real intentions to produce content that is meaningful. This might include essays, character sketches, setting descriptions, short stories, or vignettes. The point is to discipline yourself to write daily, and with intent. Even if you don’t make the minimum 1K target in the first few days or even weeks, monitor your progress and focus on increasing your word county daily. If you establish the disciplined practice of writing daily, everything else will more naturally fall into place.

Make Strategic Plans

So many writers don’t complete NanoWrimo. One reason is that they are not prepared to write that many words for that long of a sustained period. Another reason — and one I believe is a bigger concern — is that they do not prepare adequately for the story part of the competition. With so much emphasis placed on the number of words and the short time given to write a novel-length story, the actual book you are writing gets dropped a bit by the way side. We forget to focus on plot, setting, characters, conflict, and resolution.

In short, we forget that the reason we are doing this is to write a book-length story.

If you prepare properly, this won’t be an issue. I spend weeks plotting out the details of my story using outlines, index cards, interviews, drawings, and actual video and photos from potential “sets” where the story might take place. Then, when Nov. 1 comes around, my book has been outlined to the point that it is just a matter of breathing life into the skeletal structure.

I know that some people don’t like writing from outlines; they say that it takes away from the creative aspect of the writing process. Trust me, when it comes to writing, I am an absolute madman, and there’s no creativity lost in this process. We are creating and composing all the time; it’s just that the creative form is ever-shifting.

As well, you don’t have a lot of time to mull over the direction of the story. Writing nearly 2,000 words a day is akin to running a solid two miles daily. You don’t want to spend precious running time figuring out your route.

Plan ahead, and you’ll meet with success.

Get in Good Physical Condition

Philip Gerard was a good mentor to me in grad school at Goucher College. He taught us about the finer aspects of writing creative nonfiction, but he also taught us about taking care of ourselves as writers. One of his stronger recommendations was staying healthy, especially when you are taking on a long writing project (and NanoWrimo certainly qualifies). Writing can be a very sedentary profession, and any compromise in your health can also compromise your endurance and focus while writing your novel. Get plenty of rest, take 10-minute moving breaks every hour, and schedule a good walk or light run each day. Eat well, and stay hydrated.

If you want to participate in any kind of marathon, be smart about your preparation. Writing a book in 30 days is no easy feat, but it is very do-able if you remain mindful of your daily practice, your strategy, and your health.

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