Sunday, April 15, 2012

Marathon Day

JAN BROGAN - Tomorrow is a big day in Massachusetts. Patriots Day. That is our celebration of Paul Revere riding through town and alerting everyone that the British were coming and, of course, the first shots of the Revolutionary War. 

 Once, I celebrated the holiday by actually going to the reenactment of the battle on the Lexington Green, which was followed by a fabulous brunch (Thanks Cynthia), but mostly I celebrate the way everyone else around here celebrates: By going to the Boston Marathon.

Yes, tomorrow is Marathon Day in Massachusetts, a holiday I hold dear to my heart because during college  I worked at the Eliot Lounge, formerly "the running bar."  I always made a lot of tips in Marathon Day and once I even often got free sneakers.

Today I'm going to celebrate Marathon Day at the blog by explaining how I used a running book to help me write.

Recently, I did an interview for the Boston Globe with Catharine Utzschneider, a professor of competitive performance at Boston College, running coach, and the author of MOVE!: How Women Can Achieve Athletic Goals at Any Age.  

Anyway, in our interview, she mentioned that a number of her  friends  had used her structured approach to motivation to tackle the marathon of writing a book. So I thought, okay, what the heck? I used to run. It's almost as grueling as writing. 

Turns out there are a number of really good suggestions that applied, including breaking goals into short term and long term goals, re-assessing, picking yourself up after injury, and keeping motived by enlisting the help of a buddy who will push you on days you don't want to be pushed.

I will talk about the two points that most helped me.

First  was keeping a "training" journal. I've  had a journal for  each novel I've written but it was mostly space to work out character traits or plot points. Now  I started a daily calendar journal - to keep track of how much time I was spending actually writing and where I was frittering time away.  It was illuminating. I frittered less than I thought, but certain projects took more time than I realized.

Most importantly though,  I  stumbled upon  a new trick to help fight my Internet/email addiction. (which, by the way, I learned last night at a panel discussion at Mass General Hospital, is considered a serious problem in China, so I have LOTS of company).

As part of keeping track of the where I'm spending my time, I forced myself to write down every time I check my email or the Internet.  And viola! It works the way keeping a journal about  how much food you eat keeps you from eating so much.  
In other words, it's really sort of embarrassing when you see in your own handwriting just how often you click on that MAIL icon in the corner. Shame is a really good incentive NOT TO DO IT.

My buddy Barbara also suggested jokingly that I award myself little gold stickers for every day I work uninterrupted for four hours. We laughed over that.  Little gold stickers - hah! -  like we used to give the kids

On the way home from the gym that day, I stopped at CVS.

It may not be as exalting as running through the finish line, but you might be surprised  how satisfying a little gold sticker can be! 


  1. Keeping a journal to document how many times I get side-tracked and on what? That sounds intimidating, mostly because I'm scared to know how often I do that...but that's more or less the point, anyway --to come to terms with the facts in order to roll up my sleeves and get crackin'. I should definitely do that, as well as get back to doing my push-ups, knee bends and stomach crunches.
    Tis the season!

  2. Ha ha, gold stars, not sure that would do anything for me:). But the advice sounds good--very similar to the stuff I learned studying sports psychology.

    I had the chance to moderate a panel on the writing process recently that included Judy Blume and Rosalind Brackenbury. (whew!) they both keep journals of their works in progress--with notes about characters, what might happen, etc. I've never done it--more inclined to messy piles of notes and scraps...but maybe work a try! I do put page and or word count goals on my calendar.

  3. Great ideas, Jan. I confess, I just turn off the Internet. It's the only way.

    I'm also fairly compulsive about meeting deadlines -- but I can't just give myself a deadline, it has to be real.

  4. I'm in Hallie's corner. If I find I'm spending more time on the internet than I'd like, I start packing up and going to a coffee shop to work. After having been hacked, I won't use a wide-open public wifi like that, so I won't have to worry about the temptation to go online or check email.

  5. OH, Im a big believer in rewards..I fill in my word chart every day--and it isSO gratifying!

    I tried to keep a WIP's next to me right now..but I--this s iso silly--don't like when I have to turn the pages to find something. So I'm better, like Lucy, with little yellow stickies.

    Whatever works, right?

  6. Verbose,
    I didn't want to keep a journal either. It was kicking and screaming, but it really was illuminating.

    I'm starting to think clicking on the Mail icon is just like those people at the slot machines, pushing those buttons. Some weird physical compulsion that starts t take over your brain.

    I'm best when I can stay off completely. Worst, like last week, when it was my blog week and I have a reason (or excuse) to keep going back on .

    But its a new week tomorrow - and I am SO loving my time-training journal.

    Hank, I was thinking of your chart when I was loving my little gold stickers.

    Roberta, and Hank, I LOSE the stickers - so the Journal works for me. But I also LOVE that stickies program in Apple, where I can paste stickies electronically to my computer.

  7. Stickies program? On apple? That sounds great...

  8. Aw Jan... Patriots Day. So big in my memory. Kind of like snow, though. When you're a kid, it's a day off from school. When you're all grown up it's more about, "Can I get the car from here over to The Square?'

    Didn't my old buddy BJ Roche have something to say about that?

  9. Wait a minute! Stickies for Apple? Where do I find it? Some days the word count thingy at the bottom of the page is just not quite enough, especially when it's not about the numbers. Which it almost always is - but not always!!!

  10. I've tried keeping a WIP journal the last couple of books. I start out with lots of character and plot stuff, and I do refer back to it (for instance, when I can't remember what I named a character at the beginning of the book...) But the farther along I get in the book, the less I use the journal. I put high-lighted questions to myself in my chapter/scene outline instead of the journal. It does help me to keep a record on my calendar of my page or word count every day, and whether I've met my goal. Jan, I'm definitely going to try your suggestions.

  11. I need those little gold stickers, Jan. Every time the creative juices slow down I have to quickly check email, Facebook etc. It is addictive!

  12. I give myself little stars and smiley suns all the time. I got hooked on star charts back in the first grade.

  13. Ah, so Darlene, you know the full power of the LITTLE GOLD STAR, I confess, I have a few smiley faces to, and I have used them.

    Rhys, I think something is happening to our neural networks. I swear, it's an automatic reflex when stuck on a writing problem.

    Stickies is in the Basic Apple Program. Just look up stickies under the Applications seciton in Finder. I lOVE THEM!

  14. Late to the Party LoraApril 15, 2012 at 10:08 PM

    I have to say, since I work in the library at my kids' school, stickers are still very powerful. I even use them with 7th and 8th graders. They laugh at me, but everybody wants one! Maybe you should just let us know when you've worked a full four hours (or chunk of time) and we can put stickers on your FB page or something..:)

    PS I think I'm changing my screen name from "Lora in Florida" to "Late to the party Lora" cause I'm always posting after you all are done!

  15. Thanks, Jan. This post is an inspiration with several ideas I can put into practice. A reward system sounds good. Stickers are not my thing though. The concept of a daily calendar journal is a breakthrough idea for me. DAILY is the element I was missing. The frequency structure will be really helpful. This will combine two types of journals into one, and that's a time saver. Plus allows focus.

    Lora: I know what you mean. I'm on usually after midnight (Pacific Coast time) and it seems too late to chime in or it's too early to do tomorrow's post.

    Lucy: "page and or word count goals on my calendar" - Yes! So simple. Great idea.

    Hank: "don't like when I have to turn the pages to find something" - This was a big prob for me. I've taken to labeling handwritten pages of notes at the top right with the name of the project and a sub-category like "character" if one applies. Otherwise I could never find anything.

    Thanks, Reds. Treasures of my heart.

  16. Lora and AVI -

    You are NEVER too late. I always check the next day, just to be sure. And we are so happy to have you join the discussion.

    Glad, I could help Avi,

    and Lora, I love the idea of stickers on my Facebook page! In fact, I'm surprised Zuckerberg hasn't already thought of that, given the power of the little gold sticker!