Write Like You’re Training for a Marathon to Meet and Exceed Your Word Count

There are many schools of thought on how best to train for a marathon, but they all agree on one thing: the long run. This once-weekly centerpiece of all marathon training programs stretches a runner’s endurance to the extreme levels required to successfully run 26.2 miles.

This is me after the marathon finish line. You can't see it, but I'm double-fisting PB&Js while balancing half a watermelon and a cup of M&Ms in my lap.
This is me after the marathon finish line. Right after this picture was taken, I decided double-fisting PB&Js while balancing that watermelon and a cup of M&Ms in my lap was a fantastic idea.

I ran my first marathon last July, and one of the first lessons I learned the hard way was that running as hard and as far as I could during every workout was a terrible way to train. It took two bouts of runner’s knee and a pulled hamstring for me to realize that short, quality runs during the week and one weekly long run to push the endurance envelope was a smarter way to gradually ramp up to marathon miles without killing myself in the process.

Hitting your word count goals, especially if they’re ambitious or you’re on deadline, can feel like an endurance event, so why not treat it like one? If you want to start hitting your word count goals day after day, and boost your productivity consistently over time, try the following techniques, derived from my marathon experience.


1. Use interval training to produce consistently high-quality content quickly. Sure, you want to increase your output, but not if that means that the quality of your writing suffers, right? So, intentionally limit yourself to a few short, high-intensity writing  periods while you concentrate on learning how to produce more and more usable content in a shorter-than-usual time span. To do a writing interval, open your document, set a timer, sit down, and don’t stop moving your fingers until the session is over. No editing, no pencil-chewing, less-than-usual thinking.

Like interval training, which teaches your muscles to fire at maximum intensity and adds to your endurance over time, interval writing can help you “switch on” writing, and waste less time getting ready, getting comfortable and dithering about.


2. Do really scary things regularly. My house sits atop one of the eponymous Litchfield Hills, and to run anywhere, I’ve got to run down that hill. It’s the kind of hill that makes cars lurch back into second gear as they climb it, dirt bikes sputter and bicycles slow to a stop as they try to ascend.

I’ve never made it up that hill without having to stop at least once, even in peak marathon condition.

To be more productive, you’ve got to operate without fear of really big obstacles. If you find certain scenes very challenging to write, or you think grinding out the first paragraph feels like climbing Everest, stare it in the face, and make yourself do it at least once a week. Write that one style of scene that scares you, or capture great dialogue you hear in a notebook—whatever it is, do it, and watch your output grow.


3. Commit to a goal early. To make myself accountable for my goal of finishing a marathon, I registered early and got a good pair of running shoes. Neither of these things is cheap, and the initial outlay gave me the much needed motivation and guilt trip to push through until I saw results.

How can you commit early to your writing goals? You’ve got to make other people commit for you. Announce your intention to finish one short story a week on Facebook and post each completed story, make a public commitment in your online writing community and give status updates every Monday, or Tweet your daily word count to the world. Anything works, as long as you’re accountable, and you’re in public.


I've always wondered why characters in movies don't do this.
I’ve always wondered why characters in movies don’t do this.

4. Carve out one huge writing session per week with a much-higher-than-usual word count goal. Just like a long run in marathon training, one huge writing session per week can stretch your ability to be productive, help you hit higher and higher word counts over time and allow you to produce a great big pile of words without burning out.

Have other methods to meet and exceed your word count goals? Share them in the comments.


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