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Marathon Training to Finish Your Book

Let’s Start Training. The bulk of marathon training consists of longer runs interspersed with rest and recovery days. Your writing schedule should follow the same premise: A few short writing stints, followed with a longer write on Saturday or Sunday (your Long Writing Day, or LWD). A good beginning might be 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and two hours on your LWD. Use this time to refine your voice and familiarize yourself with characters and motives. You may feel “sore” after these sessions, but no matter: You’re building up your writing muscles.

I hear it over and over again: If only I had time, I’d finish that novel. Except you do have time. You just don’t realize it. I wrote Dolls Behaving Badly as a single mother working two jobs.

How did I manage? I followed Hal Higdon’s marathon plan. But what, exactly, does marathon training have to do with writing? Long distance running and novel writing both demand discipline and focus, and require months, if not years, of solitary hard work.

GIVEAWAY: Cinthia is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

cinthia-ritchie
dolls-behaving-badly-novel

Guest column by Cinthia Ritchie, former journalist who lives and runs
mountains and marathons in Alaska. Her work can be found at New York
Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Water-Stone Review, Under the Sun,
Memoir, damselfly press, Slow Trains, 42opus and over 45 literary magazines.

Her first novel, DOLLS BEHAVING BADLY, releases Feb. 5 from Grand
Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group. The novel, billed as "a story for
every woman who's earned a little fun," was called "a fun read" by Publishers
Weekly and "a compelling debut novel" by Booklist. Find Cinthia on Facebook
or Twitter. Find the book on Amazon, B&N, or IndieBound.

Base Training

Before you can write book, you need a base. This could be an MFA program, workshops, online classes or hours and hours of reading well-written books.

Slowly move up to the book planning stage. Outline chapters, compose character sketches, conduct research and stock up on printer paper and chocolate.

Let’s Start Training

The bulk of marathon training consists of longer runs interspersed with rest and recovery days.

Your writing schedule should follow the same premise: A few short writing stints, followed with a longer write on Saturday or Sunday (your Long Writing Day, or LWD). A good beginning might be 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and two hours on your LWD.

Use this time to refine your voice and familiarize yourself with characters and motives. You may feel “sore” after these sessions, but no matter: You’re building up your writing muscles.

(Look over our growing list of literary fiction agents.)

Speed It Up

Gradually increase your writing sessions until you’re up to two hours three times a week and three to four hours on your LWD. If time restraints intrude, substitute with “speedwork,” shorter, more frequent writing bouts (i.e., five minutes as you wait to pick up a child from soccer practice, 10 minutes between work projects, three minutes while waiting in line at the grocery store).

Hitting the Wall

Sooner or later, it’s going to get rough. Every marathoner knows this, which is why most fear the dreaded 20 mile training runs that crop up midway through the training cycle.

Likewise, the central phase of your writing plan will feel equally imposing. You’re now writing for eight hours a week plus an additional eight hours on the weekends (which basically pans out to two additional work days). You have no life. Your wrists ache, your head hurts. Everything you write sounds like dribble; you want to quit more than anything.

(How NOT to start your story. Read advice from agents.)

This is where you hit the wall. It’s inevitable, and the only way through is to keep writing. Work your full eight hours, no matter how you stumble or stutter. Take frequent breaks but do not stop. Believe it or not, a good part of what you produce will prove salvageable.

Tapering

The majority of marathon plans highlight 14 weeks of increased mileage, followed by a two week taper.

In order to avoid writer’s burnout, do the same. Periodically reduce your writing to the bare minimum, and then take it easy. Watch trashy TV. Eat a lot of junk food. Rest up and recover.

(How to Research a Novel.)

The Finish

Most of us can’t finish a novel in 16 weeks, of course, but we can complete a few solid chapters or even a quick rough-draft.

Repeat the marathon writing plan until you’ve completed your book. And remember what marathoners say after each race: If it were easy, everyone would do it.

GIVEAWAY: Cinthia is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

2014-guide-to-literary-agents

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

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