Don’t Ask Me to Run

Running is only for emergencies. It’s been my lifelong motto and it’s served me well. Snakes, bull-ants, fire, flood, small child heading for deep water, or cafe about to switch off the coffee machine – these are all good reasons to run, as far as I’m concerned.  But Fun Run? No way. If it’s for a decent cause, I’ll sponsor your champion efforts but don’t expect me to show up to the starting line. Fun Run is the perfect tautology, as far as I’m concerned, a complete contradiction in words.

When it comes to writing, though, I’m quite the sprinter. I like fast and furious. I go like the clappers (whatever they are) when there’s a deadline only a couple of hours away. It’s probably not good for the blood pressure and I’ve often gone to bed with a headache, along with a guilty conscience for not being more self-disciplined with my time. But if writing in a chaotic rush is a mistake, I don’t seem to be learning from it. Even now, I’ve got the timer on for thirty minutes and I’m racing against the tick to get this blog post finished before the bell rings.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire those marathon writers who get up before dawn each morning and plug away at their keyboard for three hours before heading for their coffee mug and cereal bowl. A few times, I’ve set the alarm and given it a go. Well, once or twice. No, let’s be honest – once. It was awful, believe me. And I’ve done the “write two thousand words before lunch” exercise as well. And the “write between the hours of 12pm and 4pm every single day” regime. I’ve tried to squeeze myself into the mould (or mold if you’re in the US) of the marathon writer and I really don’t enjoy it, not one bit. On top of that, it doesn’t seem to benefit my writing, apart from producing pages and pages of plodding pulp.

Perhaps it’s a personality thing as much as a learned habit. Some marathon writers produce magnificent stories. On the other hand, I seem to produce my best work when I’m sprinting. When I’m writing fast, I actually like the way my fingers tumble words onto the screen with hardly a second thought. I like the lack of control that allows ideas to pop into my head from who knows where and lead me down all sorts of imaginative pathways. And I like the unexpected intrusion of odd characters  elbowing their way into the story. It’s like reading a really good book – you never know what’s about to happen.

I’ve noticed other writers groaning when they’re given a 10-minute burst-writing exercise in a workshop but I’m always ready to take a deep breath and sprint out of the blocks with my pen. I love the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and finding even a single little gem of an idea or a succinct phrase or a surprising character emerging from my ten minutes of rapid writing. Often, they’re the start of a much longer story continued at a more leisurely pace.

Of course, I have to push myself to run a longer race when I’m pulling a story together over subsequent drafts or editing for publication, especially if I’m writing novel rather than short story. Even then, if I come across a passage that seems a little flat or isn’t hanging together well, I’ll pull out of the hard slog and treat myself to a thirty-minute writing sprint to see if I can come up with a solution. Sometimes, I take one of my character names and just let loose with whatever comes into my head. Or I might use the final sentence of a paragraph and let it run off in a completely different direction for a page or so. Or perhaps I’ll use a keyword in my story to prompt a rush of writing that bombards the page with new ideas. It nearly always works its magic and my story takes off once more.

So nowadays, I’m not beating up on myself for sleeping past dawn and I’m not feeling guilty for failing to fill four hours of writing every single day. Kudos to all you marathon writers, I admire your efforts, but I’m a sprint writer. That’s my kind of Fun Run.


8 thoughts on “Don’t Ask Me to Run

  1. Yes, I can see that your best work comes from the pressure that you place upon yourself.
    Running is only safe when the glass is half full! Pete.

  2. I love the sprint too, Jacqui. Although I’m never doing it against the clock, which I don’t think I’d like. My sprints come in a rush of ideas that I have to get down in a hurry before I forget any of them. Love those times. Love them. It’s when the joy of writing sends my soul souring. A joy only a writer knows. A joy I only discovered a few years ago.
    I also like a bit of a jog. When I’m trying to find a direction for some dialogue especially. I’ll take the conversation in several directions, trying to find an angle, a funny side, the release of a tear. The special moments when they arrive are sublime. A moment of shear wonder that fills me with pride.
    They say writing is a lonely business, but I’m never lonely, I always have my characters to keep me company and they’re always exciting. Something is always going on with them 🙂
    Looking forward to your next post, Jacqui, as always.
    Gary Taaffe

    • Given the characters in your books, Gary, I reckon they’d be hilarious company. And, yeah, often it’s good to slow down to a jog when you’re writing. Sprints can get quite tiring if you don’t slow down a bit in between. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Most of the time I’m a tortoise when it comes to writing. I probably do what a lot of people do and start well – having had a brilliant idea for a story. The problem is, it never goes to plan, I write myself into a corner and can’t think of a way to get out, until I go back to the beginning and often start again, perhaps changing from first person to third person or using a different point of view, or using the same character but giving that character a different problem to solve. It’s embarrassing to admit to the number of drafts some of my stories have had.

    Sometimes though, rarely, a story writes itself, and that’s when I become a sprinter like you Jackie, and that’s when it’s a lot of fun.

    • Have to confess I do get stuck sometimes when I’m writing, especially longer works. The story starts with a big sprint but then stops when I realise I have no idea who the main character really is and where the story is heading. That’s when I have to pull up and and take a more measured look at what I’m writing. Taking a different point of view, a different person in the narrator or giving the character a different problem often works for me as well. It always amazes me how many ways a story can be told and when I hit on a more interesting tack the story takes off again. Fun!

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