For me, writing is all about sprints, while making a living as an author is a marathon.
Stick with me as I unpack this extended metaphor a bit…
Writers, like runners, have to build strength and stamina through (writing) exercises, diet (of quality reading material), and specialized training (in the form of workshops and writing courses). We measure our progress through contest submissions, publications, and challenges. Beginning writers and runners alike have to start small, pacing themselves with realistic progress goals in order to prevent burnout or breaking something (like your spirit).
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated) has always been my version of a 15k, except in a writing context it’s really a 50k (for 50,000 words in 30 days). Every November, NaNo-ers participate in 30 days of “writing abandon”, concentrating on quantity, not quality. If you approach the NaNo experience expecting to come out with a polished, publishable manuscript by December 1st, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. NaNoWriMo is about taking risks, stretching your writing muscles, and getting words on the page so that you have SOMETHING to work with when you return to your manuscript on December 1st (or in my case, January 10th).
The people at NaNoWriMo also offer other events for the online writing community at other times during the year. While November is all about the 50k words novel goal, April and July host Camp NaNoWriMo, an online community competition where writers form “cabins” with fellow writers and set their own goals for the month (writing, drafting, revision, etc.).
I just completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo this past April. Having spent the last four months slogging through the sucky swampland that is agent querying, I decided that I would use my Camp NaNo momentum to get a start on my new novel project. Originally, I set my goal at 50k words, since the majority of the novel was outlined and the first several chapters were already drafted. About halfway through the month, I took a look at my writing progress, factored in the real-world events that would take me away from my writing during the last week of the month, and scaled my goal back down to a more manageable 35k words. That’s the beauty of Camp NaNo! No judgement and all goals are personal and negotiable.
In the final minutes of April 30, I pushed through (while the husband slumbered beside the cat) to achieve my goal of 35k words out of my 60k novel. Looking back, I’m glad I made myself sign up for Camp NaNo because knowing my cabin mates were making progress toward their goals spurred me to write when I might have otherwise watched another episode of Gilmore Girls instead. Writing can be a solitary pursuit—if you let it! To return to the runner metaphor—if you know that no one is waiting to watch you cross the finish line, then there’s less incentive to finish. Take advantage of organizations like NaNoWriMo or local writing groups, to keep yourself accountable. And take risks with your writing by challenging yourself to a week, a month, or, heck, even three months of daily writing sprints or word count goals.