We tend to idealize the writing marathon. Such a delicious, romantic image of writing all day, so into your craft you forget to eat etc. But suppose you do get that one day to make up for all the others you missed, how do you make the marathon (6+ hour chunks of writing time) or the ultra-marathon (10+ hours) work? I am a believer and lover of the marathon/ultra-marathon and at times have been personally capable of 16-hour writing days with 10,000+ word output. But, this comes from serious enforced habits. Sometimes my brain/body doesn’t want to cooperate when I have the time opportunity, so I have tricks. Here are five things I do to make the writing marathon/ultra-marathon successful. Help keep yourself from losing steam!
- Get up early—by which I mean whatever “early” means on a non-workday for you. Maybe that means noon and you’re going late. Whatever. Getting up early helps set my body and brain into get-things-done-mode. There is a reason I got up and therefore it is easier for me to stay on task. It’s like using my “regular” work habits to trick myself. I don’t sleep through work etc. because I have to pay rent. Therefore, I don’t sleep in on a marathon writing day. I treat it just as seriously.
- Force the mood—read a page or two of work you admire or do something transitory before you start or if you’re struggling. Take a shower, make coffee etc. all the while mentally getting ready/still thinking about the project you are about to work on. Public places like coffee-shops help some people, but you have more control of your environment at home. If I’m going to do a more than 5-hr writing day I always make sure I’m in a controllable environment.
- Take short, frequent breaks—I am a chronic tea drinker. I even have a special designated “writing tea” that I only drink when I’m writing. This kind of enforced the “now we’re in intense writing mode” thing and enforces the illusion of structure. There are also natural short breaks when drinking copious amounts of tea because you have to go make tea and, inevitably, relieve yourself of said past-drank tea. I don’t advise coffee, but if you can handle that, more power to you. Short parts or episodes of Netflix or more reading/short walks can work, but are a dangerous risk. The key is just to be sure you have a short task change, no more than 15-20 minutes. Just sitting and thinking/reflecting while looking out the window in a different room or walking around for a bit can work too.
- Have pre-made sustenance on-hand—cooking can get you in the mood but also shake you out of it. Snacks are fine, but sometimes feel like not enough or too much. Hunger and indigestion are distracting. I treat going into a marathon like getting ready for the work week. Make a bunch of something beforehand portioned out for meals so you can just heat it up and get back to writing. This habit started when I spent 10 days at -40 outside writing in a wood-stove heated house with natural breaks to restock the stove and feast on pot roast. (May I suggest something comforting like pot roast?)
- For longer writing projects, re-read some what you have written before you start and whenever possible leave off/take breaks in the middle of things—just a good rule overall. I know it seems counter-intuitive to stop or take a break without finishing a scene. But, rereading next time will help get you in the mood, help you remember where you were, or give you a place to blast off right away and start from. Starting from where you left off at the end of something cold turkey can stump you, or lead into weird transitions. It gives no added energy to help facilitate the next writing session or hopeful marathon.
Keep in mind, you know your own writing habits/weaknesses and what works for you! That said, this is the only way I’ve been able to get through ultra-marathon writing days. I personally love the immersive experience.
(This ultra-marathon advice comes from fiction editor Mirri Glasson-Darling)