Writing Marathon Style

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.

blue moon retreat

P1010344So 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.

jr pours M&Ms

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.


8 thoughts on “Writing Marathon Style

  1. And then I brought those stupid pens back because they leak so finally I borrowed one. Shoulda done dat in the first place huh? Now I have a notebook addiction. There is no cure.

  2. The worst and most horrific thing that could happen to a writer happened last night. My very last PaperMate WriteBros pen died. Nothing but orange highlighter in the house. So today of course there are no WriteBros, they shut down Office Depot long ago, so I had to get a poor substitute which leaks through my cheap dollar store porous notebook pages. The muse seems to have stuck around though and that pen really does have the fastest ink in the word. In fact it ran off ahead of me across the page and pulled me along with it. Yikes.

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  4. That sounds so yummylicious, Judy — and just moments before I sat desk and saw your post here I put your “Family Stories” card (The Writer’s Retreat Kit)on the table with my notebook for tomorrow. I like to write family stories. That way I get to use all my Italian cusswords along with tales of all those voracious Sunday spaghetti dinners and roof spinning arguments at Grandma’s. If I hurry up and go to sleep I can get up in about six hours and get started.


    • Hi Linda, thanks for stopping by. Hope you and your family had a great writing time together yesterday. Sometimes I wish I’d been born to an Italian family, or some great big Mexican familia. My whitebread midwest clan ate roast beef and gravy and didn’t make a lot of noise.

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