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.

Aaaand they’re off! The 5×15 Writing Challenge returns

What’s the most important part of the 5×15 Writing Challenge?

5x15 Writing Challenge
Feedback from the very first writing challenge

Is it the donations the writers earn for charity? Our first three challenges have raised about $1,200 for Room to Read, a fantastic nonprofit promoting global literacy.

Is it the discipline of developing a daily writing practice? Many veterans of the 5-day challenges are on track to finish the more daunting 90-day challenge that finishes on June 30th. (And yes, there’s another 90-Day Challenge right behind that one, starting July 1st.)

Certainly both of those are important outcomes. But my favorite parts of the 5-day-long challenge are the discoveries people make along the way.

Challenge writers push through their fears and discover that when you push through your fears often enough, they go away. Or at least subside long enough for you to write.

People who haven’t written for pleasure in years—or perhaps ever—discover the joy of being creative. Being silly, even. And people who write for a living use the challenge to dig into those memoirs they’ve been meaning to write.

Entrepreneurs who know they should be blogging bank some blog posts. One participant this time has committed to writing that five-email sequence she’s been meaning to create for her new followers.

Challengers have written satire, fiction, odes to their pet gerbils. I’m inspired by their creativity. And humbled by the care and generosity they demonstrate in our Facebook group.

I’ve said often that the 5×15 Writing Challenge may be the best idea I had in all of 2016. I’m excited to see how it’s flourished—this round has the highest enrollment yet. And I can’t wait to see what’s next for these writers.

Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

What can you do in 15 minutes a day?

For some people, the idea of writing for 15 minutes seems unimaginable. It’s such a long time!

For other people, 15 minutes seems like barely enough time to accomplish anything.

Regular readers know that I made a commitment 233 days ago to write for 15 minutes a day, every day. Many days, I go longer than that—usually writing until I finish a blog post. That’s 45 minutes, maybe an hour or more, depending on how long I go.

But today I thought I’d give you a demonstration of what you can accomplish in just 15 minutes of writing. The Gods of SEO won’t like it if we end up at less than 300 words, but the Gods of SEO can take a break for one day.

So before I started writing this, I set my timer for 15 minutes. Aaaand…we’re already 5 minutes in.

15 minutes — an arbitrary goal

Some writers, like my virtual colleague Beth Dunn, prefer to structure the daily goal in terms of word count. And she has a point. If you’re the kind of person who will stare at your blank computer screen until the elusive Muse forces your fingers to start hitting the keys, then you probably want to commit to a word count.

I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but I often feel time moves at a turtle’s pace, especially when I’m not fired up by the subject. So I like the discipline of making sure I write for at least 15 minutes.

Before my time runs out, I want to remind you that I’m hosting a challenge for those of you who’d like to try out a daily writing practice. Jumpstart 2017: The 5×15 Writing Challenge is—remarkably—just what it says. A challenge to write for five days in a row, 15 minutes a day in the week leading up to the new year (December 26th-30th, to be precise).

Why wait until January 1st to do something productive for yourself? Complete the challenge and you start the new year with a win—and I think pretty much all of us could use a win right about now. And when you complete the challenge, I’ll donate your $15 registration fee to a wonderful nonprofit that supports girls’ literacy around the world. (If you don’t complete the challenge, I keep the money. But, really, I’d much rather fund some literacy programs.

To get more information or register for the Challenge, click on over here.

Fifteen minutes of your time for five days and you’ll not only do something transformative for yourself, you’ll help Room to Read transform the lives of girls around the world. A win-win.

[And that’s a wrap.]