Who wants to write for four hours straight? Six hours? Eight hours? More? I know plenty of writers who do and I’ve done it with them many times.
I ran my first writing marathon nearly twenty years ago. I’d read about writing marathons in Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, and added my own variations to her basic idea. I rounded up a bunch of writers who gathered for a day-long writing practice-style session using prompts and props and exercises in a free-wheeling, anything-goes, surprise-yourself endurance run. Since then I’ve led dozens of such events— happy-hour marathons, late-night marathons and pizza parties, outdoor marathons, café marathons; we held a New Year’s Eve event one year and wrote until two in the morning. Even after all these years, I still love doing them.
Writing marathons aren’t a test of creative endurance. They’re a way to immerse yourself in your writing, to tread new ground, experiment, explore, take some chances, maybe break through barriers and let the words fall where they may.
By the end of the day after writing long hours with a score of other writers, people get a little goofy and anything can happen. Sometimes the best writing comes when your pen is dragging and your head is wonky and you can’t think. Which is probably what makes it so good: not thinking.
So gather together a gang of writers, anywhere from five or six to fifteen or more, for a set amount of time—day or night. Create a comfortable writing space where writers feel safe to read their work aloud after they’ve written (if they want; never any “musts”). Provide enough prompts or exercises to fill the time or invite the others to create some. Use the same guidelines for writing for your marathon that you use for writing practice. (You can download a pdf for Guidelines for Writing Practice here.) Write in timed, focused free-writes (anywhere from five to twenty minutes; set the timer), and invite readings after each timed session.
I open the event by reading the guidelines and close with poem or reading that will help writers re-orient themselves. After a day of working from that deeper, intuitive space, participants need to get grounded in the “real” world before they re-enter it.
Take breaks, provide snacks and refreshments (this is where I got the reputation for being an M&M-aholoic). Have fun; take your writing seriously, but not yourself.
You can find out more about how to stage a writing marathon in my book, A Writer’s Book of Days. Meantime, I’m hosting my Annual Summer Writing Marathon, Saturday, August 3 from 10 am to 4 pm at Expressive Arts Studio. If you’re anywhere in the San Diego area, I’d love for you join us.