90 days, nearly $900: A tale of five writers

90 days!

Eight writers, 90 days: the first Bennett Ink 90-Day Writing Challenge wrapped up yesterday with five writers finishing their commitment. That’s a completion rate of 62.5% if you keep track of those things. Now, it’s not the 80%+ completion rate of my June 5×15 Writing Challenge. But then 90 days is 18 times longer than 5 days. That’s a lot longer, as my writers will no doubt tell you.

Four of challengers wrote every day for the entire 90 days, earning $150 apiece for their designated charities. One of the nonprofits matched contributions made yesterday, so that writer doubled her impact.

Another writer, who joined the challenge a week late, decided to write only on weekdays. She earned $10 for every completed week, a total of $120. That’s $870, if you’re keeping score.

Of course, none of them was in it for the money. But it did provide a nice incentive to keep their streaks going all the way to the finish line. The support they received from fellow writers also helped. Our Facebook Group became like a pit crew, or one of the rest stops on my friend Marcia’s 500-mile bike ride. Pop in feeling burned out—or at least lightly fried—and leave with a handful of “been there/done that” stories and “you can do it!” posts to boost your confidence.

90 Days of Surprises

They say it takes three weeks to build a habit. What can you build in 13 weeks? My writers were amazed at the answers they uncovered.

More than one writer discovered a poet lurking inside of her, just waiting for the opportunity to speak. Writers unearthed true stories from their long-ago past, and created fantasies about what their future might hold.

In our celebration wrap-up yesterday one said:

“The richness of the experience surprised me. Everyone was willing to move out of her comfort zone.”

Another said:

“Something happened for each of us.”

Something—I’m paraphrasing here—that only happened because they wrote.

What can happen for you? Wanna find out? The next 90-Day Challenge starts today…but we’ll accept anyone who enrolls before July 4th.

Sharpen your pencils; blow the cat hair out of your keyboards. The 90-Day Challenge: It’s time for you to write.

Tailwinds, tutus, and a marathon commitment

They say “never say never,” but I feel confident you will never see me run a marathon. It’s not that I lack stamina; my writing streak stands at 426 days as I write this on Sunday afternoon—surely that counts as a marathon commitment. And while some days it feels like a walk in the park, others it feels like the Ironman with a couple of extra sports thrown in for good measure.

massive commitments
One of the rest stop volunteers during this year’s AIDS/LifeCycle ride

My friend Marcia has taken on several endurance rides and races. Last week wrote about the most recent—a week-long, 550-mile bike ride down the California coast, raising money for AIDS/LifeCycle.

During that long, hot bike ride, Marcia discovered many natural wonders: tailwinds that pushed the riders up steep hills; curves that revealed sudden, breathtaking views of the Pacific; volunteers at the rest stops wearing sparkly rainbow tutus.

She also discovered something wonderful about herself:

“…eventually, you don’t even feel it as your capability is massively enhanced. Tailwinds combined with graham cracker crunch bars and electrolyte drinks roughly every 20 miles made the whole 550 miles to Los Angeles about as effortless as a long ride could be.”

The 90-Day Writing Challenge, another marathon commitment

Marcia’s story arrived in my email as the writers in my 90-Day Writing Challenge are rounding a curve that reveals a breathtaking view of their finish line: the Challenge wraps up this Friday. A remarkable number of the writers who started it are on track to complete this marathon commitment, either writing for the full 90 days or just on the weekdays. I feel certain the writers would want me to add quotations marks around that “just.” Nothing feels simple when you’re struggling to make words come out of your fingers to meet a midnight deadline. But they’ve done it. And that’s an amazing accomplishment.

So what’s gotten them through it? Many of the same things that sustained Marcia, though with less sweating and (I’m guessing) less latex, or whatever space-age stuff they use in those bicycle suits.

Marcia had a team. It included her sister and several friends actually doing the ride, plus dozens of others who took on the very strenuous task of pushing a button to donate online. (Hey—I’ve put in a lot of hours of training to use that credit card at my peak performance level.) Plus the hundreds of volunteers supporting the riders in the field.

My writers also had a team: each other. When someone posted that she (no male writers in the challenge this time) felt she’d written poorly, the others provided strong tailwinds by reminding her that the challenge was not to write well; it was merely to write at all.

The writers shared their work in our private Facebook group and in person (well, via Zoom video calls) in a writers’ group. They loved the writers’ group so much that they insisted on meeting every week. And they plan to continue meeting even after the Challenge ends.

We had sparkly tutus, tu—er, too. I sent the group two writing prompts every week and made sure to include fanciful assignments like this:

marathon commitment

Even though most of my writers are business-oriented—writing blogs and website copy—it’s good to get out of your lane for a bit. Especially when you’re in the midst of a writing marathon.

Marcia and her teammates raised something like $30,000 for AIDS/LifeCycle. The 5-day writing challenges I’ve run to date have raised nearly $2,000 for Room to Read—with, as I’ve noted, much less sweat. The writers who complete this first-ever 90-Day Challenge will earn up to $150 apiece for their favorite charity. Those who put together shorter streaks during the challenge period will earn smaller donations.

How have you challenged yourself lately? My next 90-day challenge begins on Saturday. Stock up on graham cracker bars and electrolyte drink and join us. Sparkly tutus optional.

Pushing past your limits: on swimming and writing

“About 40 miles into the [120-mile-long] swim, I tore my right bicep,” the petite woman standing in front of the room said. You bet it hurt. “But,” she continued, “I realized I still had three other limbs: I could keep swimming.”

Last week, I complained a lot here on this blog. Well, maybe it wasn’t the worst complaining you’ve ever heard; let’s just say I was transparent about my frustration and exhaustion. While I was grateful for all the opportunities I had that required me to write, I’d been writing too much—I felt “overdrawn at the word-bank.”

Can one compare these two situations?

In the first corner, we have an athlete who’d trained for years, hour after hour of swimming laps. Not to mention nailing a swim across the English Channel on her first attempt. She was exhausted and sore, but she didn’t complain; she kept going.

In the other corner, we have the sedentary writer who’s written for years. She’d written every day for over 11 months (Day 343 yesterday!). She was exhausted and sore (a shoulder impingement; maybe a writing injury, though our heroine suspects knitting). She complained wrote transparently about her frustration. But she kept going.

I’m pretty confident that I am never going to swim across the English Channel or down the mighty Hudson River (that was Paige Christie‘s 120-mile swim). But I’m gonna cross the finish line of this writing every day for a year thing. And when I do, I’ll set my sights on year 2.

When the most athletic thing you ever do is watch baseball games, there’s something surreal about listening to endurance athletes tell their stories. But this feat of endurance writing I’m working on takes a similar kind of commitment and strength. No, I didn’t have to worry about being attacked by jellyfish (one of the perils for Channel swimmers) or keeping a hand-built boat from breaking apart in a hurricane (as Tori Murden McClure did in her first attempt at rowing solo across the Atlantic). But I have had to write through emotional storms raging in my personal life (don’t ask) and in our culture (I wrote on November 9th, just not with the same enthusiasm I had on the 8th).

And now my writers are three days into their 90-day commitment. So far everyone’s on track.

Not Propaganda

I have drunk the Kool-Aid.

Well, not actually. I wouldn’t go near that neon chemical stew refreshing, colorful beverage.

But the thing about exercise—I get it now.

I thought it was just about sweat and muscles and bragging rights. I hate sweat and I’m not big on bragging. Muscles, yeah, I like looking at them; not so wild about making them.

So when I heard stuff like “People who exercise regularly are more productive” or “People who exercise regularly are happier”—I laughed it off as “great marketing,” the kissin’ cousin of propaganda.

But…

It’s true. 

 

It’s all, 100%, absolutely true.

I have exercised at least six days a week since the beginning of April—minimum half an hour on the stationary bike in the morning with an occasional 15-minute burst later in the day—and I am much more productive than I used to be. Also—yes—happier.

I’ve just gone two days with no exercise and I found myself really looking forward to getting back to it this morning. And not just because it let me reconnect with my workout buddy, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

I’ll be honest: this is not a controlled experiment. Other factors may also contribute to my happiness (buying trousers two sizes smaller than my last purchase; the fleeting return of Spring to New England; the Mets’ starting rotation). But in general, I find I am happier on the days I exercise than on the days I don’t.

Maybe most of you have figured this out already, but those of you who haven’t can consider this a Public Service Announcement:
Exercise. Be happy.