Speed & Endurance

How your DNA can change the way you write

I’m something of an armchair genealogist. In the digital age it’s now possible to access many records about our ancestors from the comfort of our own homes, and with the advent of Genetic Genealogy we can even find out our DNA by spitting in a tube and popping a parcel in the post.

One of the things which I have discovered as a result of my research is that I am built for speed and not endurance. This isn’t really news to me. I ran the 100 metres in school in 12.85 seconds. I also practically threw up during long distance running on frosty winter days as my chest tightened and my legs turned to jelly.

But how does this apply to my writing? Am I condemned to the realms of poetry or short-story writing? Should I just stick to blogging? That would be fine if my passion lay in poetry and short-stories, or I was content to do nothing but blog, but there are countless stories inside of me, itching to get out, that would fit perfectly into the length of a novel.

The answer, as I have discovered, is to move multiple counters forwards in short, sharp bursts, rather than sit and do one thing for a prolonged length of time. Today, for example, I’m writing two blog posts of approximately 600 words each, as well as 600 words of two novels I’m working on, and 600 more on an autobiographical work. That’s a total of 3k words in a day, which is hugely productive. I know I can achieve this relatively easily because I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks. Had I told myself that I would write a solid 3k words at the beginning of the day, the likelihood is my brain would have melted down in apoplexy and it would have felt like people were sticking a multitude of long, sharp needles in my head.

I also try to change it up throughout the day to keep my brain stimulated. For example, I might spend the first block of time writing a blog, then do some research, then listen to some music or watch a podcast, then write some of one of my novels. I will vary what I work on throughout the day so my brain never gets bored. The other key thing for me is to get plenty of fresh air an exercise, especially during the long, dark, winters, and, importantly, to cuddle with my cat, Henry.

Of course none of us are the same. I suspect that our writing styles are as unique as our DNA. The important thing is to find what works best for you. If you are a marathon runner at heart then you can probably sit down for longer periods, but may not write as fast. If you are a sprinter, you might want to try to write less words at a time or even set a stop watch to write in bursts. It’s all the same in the end, but unlocking the key to your own writing DNA is what will bring you the greatest success in the end.

Are you build for writing speed or endurance? What are the secrets to your writing success? I’d love to hear from you. Do drop me a line. Liv.

The Warm Up Act

Why writers need to behave like athletes

A couple of months ago I went searching for a new writing app, and stumbled across Novlr. One of the things I like about Novlr is the dark background which is easier on my eyes. I’ve been using it for my work ever since. It also has a fantastic free writing course, the Couch to 80k Boot Camp by novelist and poet, Tim Clare.

In my experience it’s all too easy to forget how important it is to warm up with our writing every day. I’ve wasted countless hours staring at a blank page or screen, groaning under the strain of trying to force my writing muscle into action when it very clearly wants to sleep. Yet since discovering this course, with just ten minutes of writing a day, I’ve found that when I do now sit down for the main event I’m so much more limber and agile and I have a new-found confidence in what I’m doing that I never had before.

It really is a brilliant course. I can’t say enough about it. The clever way in which it slowly builds on itself and navigates so many areas of the creative writing process without you even realising how much you are growing is simply thrilling. Clare is a master when it comes to teaching, and listening to him prattle on a bit only makes it more disarming and accessible.

The fantastic news is that there’s more even after the course has ended. Clare is a prolific podcaster and his Death of 1000 Cuts podcast is available online and via iTunes. This is such a gift to us as writers and I’m extremely grateful to him for providing us with so much inspiration and for helping me warm up my writing muscles.

There’s more inspiration to be found all over the Internet and in many book shops, if you know where to look. For example, the San Francisco Writers Grotto have produced a book called “642 Tiny Things to Write About.” Whilst a bit more random, and not as sequential, as Clare’s warm ups, they can certainly breath new life into a tired mind.

Above all else, warm up! It’s not wasted time, quite the contrary. It helps you save time later by giving you the life and energy you will need for the big race. It has helped me learn how to play, have fun, and think outside the box. It has helped me grow in confidence, and not to strain my brain in trying to force it to run before it can walk. What I find it prefers to do now is dance. I hope you find it works for you too.