How to Beast a Write-a-Thon

On the first Saturday of November, Rosemont College hosts a semi-annual write-a-thon as part of the completely insane and emotional disaster we call NaNoWriMo—the National Novel Writing Month. Now, I have apprehensions about NaNoWriMo, in that writing, a novel takes more than a month, and forcing yourself to write isn’t always healthy. As I wrote about before, the “you should be writing!” shame thrown between writers is detrimental. But I’m not here to condemn the idea of NaNoWriMo. It can be fun for amateur writers who don’t feel the pressure of having to make something publishable. And I love the Write-a-Thon, so I benefit from the idea regardless of if I push myself to that 50k mark.

Now, the Write-a-Thon. Over the month of November, many writers will join for write-a-thons ranging from 1-12 hours. Maybe even longer. I go to Rosemont’s every year, and I go beast on my project. I did 15k words once, 12k. I make this day my bitch (though I lost last year and I plan to rectify that, mark my words). When we share word counts, the writers who reach those numbers of 10k or higher are stared at in awe with the question, expressed verbally or not, “how?”

Here’s how.

  • You have no friends at a write-a-thon. If your goal at a write-a-thon is to produce writing, then anything that gets in the way of that is your enemy. There are social reasons to go to a write-a-thon. There’s the camaraderie of collective passion and suffering for one’s work. There are the breaks for dinner and whatnot (yoga!) when it is important to stop writing and talk to a real human being for a little while. But the primary function of the write-a-thon is to write. And if you are going to a write-a-thon and not writing, you deserve to be shamed and feel shame. Unless you are running it. Hey, Rathalla Review! If the main reason you are there is to “hang,” get out. Leave. You are distracting people who are trying to create worlds and become gods. We can plan a time to hang later, but not at the write-a-thon.
  • Have a Plan. When someone decides to run a marathon, they prepare for it. They train for it, both mentally and physically. I don’t know what it’s like to run a marathon, but I am sure the physical drain is equivalent to the emotional strain of the write-a-thon. If you aren’t emotionally stressed at the end of the write-a-thon, you may not be doing it right. A plan will help you handle that emotional stress. You need to know your limits. Not everyone can write 10K plus words, so don’t make unrealistic goals for yourself. And, for Fiction writers, know what you are going to write. You might have ideas in your head, but before the write-a-thon comes, have an outline or a written plan that you can use to pace yourself. As rough or as detailed as you need it to be.
  • Body and Mind. Again, runners train and prepare. Goals and plans are great but never underestimate the power of a glass of water. Have food/water with you. Just like a runner, water is your best friend. If the event offers pizza, eat it. Don’t “power through” on empty. Don’t overdo it on caffeine and sugar either, even if the Halloween candy is on sale. If you use music when you write, be sure to have that up and ready to go, with comfortable headphones.
  • Be Awesome. At least, don’t obsess over what you are writing. We all know the truth about first drafts. We feel amazing, but when we go back to revise, we are faced with the reality that our writing is not/was not as good as we thought it was and we have to make it shine. Don’t think about the good/bad, just focus on the high of creativity and the power you feel while writing. On my desk at home, I have a postcard from Strand Books that says “Fucking Brilliant.” I bought that and put it up to remind myself of the feeling we have while writing. So, be awesome. If you are using words to create worlds or manipulate emotions (Hi Poets!), you are awesome. Spend the next 12 hours allowing yourself to be awesome.
  • Be a spiritual vampire. Writing is a solitary and deeply internal act. But writing with other writers, even if you are all working on different projects, has a strange and magical effect. There’s a connection that forms. I don’t know if it is because of something spiritual or not, but it is undeniably there. It’s almost like, when writers gather, we create an astral cosmos that we can connect to. Feed off of that collective energy.


Now, fellow world builders and gods. Let us gather and dictate the future of humankind. And if we can do that in writing 50,000 words in one month, then, yeah, we’re awesome.

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