How to Train to Be a Writing Olympian – Part 2

Train to be a more skilled and disciplined writing champion.


So you want to get better at this whole writing thing, do you? Just like training for a sport, writing takes time, and practice, to refine. There are certain things you have to do in order to get to wherever you want to go, writing-wise.

Here’s the second installment to our two-part mini series. Check out the first part if you haven’t already.

5. Get into a routine

When I’m training for something like a half marathon, there’s a schedule. It tells me, in general, how many miles I need to run on which days in order to be fully prepared to do a full 13.1 miles without dying. I will run anywhere from four to six days per week, gradually increasing my distance as the weeks go on. If I miss a day or two, it throws off everything – my body AND my motivation.

Athletes train. They know that if they start slacking off, their performance is going to suffer. While both under-training and over-training in sports can both lead to physical injury, inconsistencies in our writing schedules can damage us psychologically. I tend to fall into one extreme or the other, writing 8,000 words one day, a few hundred another day … schedules. Unfortunately, we’re responsible for creating our own. Many writers struggle with self-accountability, which is why this step is such a difficult one.

Discipline takes time, it takes repetition and it takes effort. I would suggest starting with one day a week – planning, in advance, which day, what time, where and how much you are going to write. The hard part is actually doing it – I can’t really help you with that. This is why it’s called “training.” You won’t get better unless you stop talking about it and actually do it.

Learn how to write 5,000+ words every day.

6. Keep writing, even when it’s bad

Physical training is a roller coaster. You have amazing days, when you feel invincible and like you could never run out of energy. You also have awful days, when you feel like you could just fall over and die right then and there. You don’t always know how things are going to go before you show up. Doing your best usually works, except when you know you aren’t performing well. Then you just feel miserable.

We all have bad writing days. Bad writing streaks, even. Some weeks I cringe with every single blog post, worried it’s all just fluff and it’s not going to help anyone. I do it anyway. The thing about ‘bad’ writing, for one thing, is that we’re not very good at judging the quality of our own work. Often what we think is our worst piece of writing ever turns out to be, in others’ opinions, one of our best.

For another, with every ‘bad’ thing we write, we learn from it. I can now tell exactly what I’m not doing well as I’m writing something. I might leave and come back to fix it later, or I might just accept defeat and submit or publish it anyway. But you learn. You learn your bad habits and you start catching yourself doing them. The more you write, the more you get used to not falling prey to those bad habits quite as often, or ever again.

What does writing a ‘bad’ story say about you as a writer?

7. Seek out constructive feedback

Every professional athlete has … well, probably a few things in common. One of those things is that they have coaches. They spend plenty of time training on their own early on, but eventually, they have someone there to highlight what they are doing right and point out what they are doing wrong. The athlete still does all the work: the coach simply helps guide them in the right direction.

Some writers have mentors, and you could technically consider an editor a mentor (though in many cases, they’re just there to fix your typos). But especially early on, writing is quite solitary. You’re not always going to have a teacher or a friend there to help you do better. Eventually, that will most likely change. No one is going to come to you, though. Nope. You’re going to have to go to them.

How? By submitting to publications. Applying for freelance writing jobs. Writing circles are great, and I have nothing against them, but I do tend to frown upon seeking feedback from peers in most cases only because that takes away from both your writing time and theirs. It’s a start, but professionals are going to much better serve you. You’re going to have to submit your work to publications, or at least try to. Whether you’re confident about it or not. (I still very rarely am – just do it. You have nothing to lose.)

Find constructive feedback on your writing to learn how you can improve your craft.

8. Stay positive, even in the face of rejection

Writing is hard: there isn’t an experienced writer out there who will argue with that. It isn’t just the writing itself that proves difficult, but the way your writing is received by others. People either ignore you or praise you or harshly criticize you … sometimes they’re nice about it, but it’s still technically criticism. Think, “Your resume is impressive, but …” It’s much easier for people to point out things they don’t like than it is to highlight things they do. So rejection, as a writer, hurts. It hurts bad. But so does falling off a balance beam, probably. You have to learn to live with the pain.

My first few times trying to find freelance work, I dealt with a lot of rejection. People don’t like paying experienced writers: inexperienced ones have it even harder. It’s not easy to pursue a goal, only to feel like everyone is out there waiting for you to fail. But if you’re training to perform better in a sport, and you trip and fall, of course you have two options, right? Get up and try again or give up for good.

There are actually two more options here: get up, try again and complain every second of the way, or get up, keep your chin up, make the most of your mistake and press on without a single negative comment. Insert comment about positive affirmations here. The Final Five may not have had it easy getting to where they are now, but they sure didn’t lie down on the floor and quit, now did they? Everyone deals with rough starts, and winding roads, bruises, what have you. Write through it, gosh darn it. Don’t you dare stop.

There’s a reason why you haven’t quit writing yet; remember that.

Taking your writing more seriously, setting goals, coming up with a plan, getting it done, no matter how tough and scary it is … that’s how you’re going to make it. I believe you can. You have to believe you can, too. But you also need to take it a step further, and act on that belief, to make a successful writing life happen for you.

I really hope you enjoyed this mini series! I have so many more tips related to this topic, I just might have to write another ebook … ;)

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add, or have any questions about any of the tips I’ve given in today’s post.

Next week’s newsletter will feature a free 30-day writing schedule to help you get your writing routine in shape – make sure you sign up so you don’t miss it! Emails come only once per week – no spam. You’ll also get a link to my podcast archives (bet you didn’t know that was a thing!) and super secret updates about new things coming to Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

How to Train to Be a Writing Olympian – Part 1

If writing were an Olympic sport, we’d have a much better idea of how to train to be the best.

If writing were an Olympic sport, we’d have a much better idea of how to train to be the best … and we’d have a much better way to measure whether or not someone is “good” or just “making progress.” There aren’t that many clear indicators of what makes a writer worthy of whatever the writing equivalent of a gold medal is (Nobel Prize seems like a reach … or maybe not).

Often, what makes a writer appear successful honestly depends on how many copies of a book they sell or how many good reviews that book gets on Amazon … but that’s a rant for another post. In a nutshell, to be the best you can be at anything, you have to train. Consistently, and for an extended period of time.

But that doesn’t make things any easier. I see a lot of confusion in writing groups about what’s “right” and “wrong” or “appropriate.” Honestly? It’s about doing – writing – not about whether or not you’re doing it the way someone else recommends you do it. Training, as a writer, is the part of writing that’s mostly solitary. You need to depend on yourself, and hold yourself accountable, to meet your goals. Here’s how.

1. Explore different genres

What trips a lot of new writers up in the beginning is not really knowing what “practicing writing” means. It’s a term broad enough to intimidate newbies, because “getting better at writing” isn’t a goal most people can figure out how to achieve. The key here is to specify what kind of writing you want to get better at.

My brother has always been an athlete. Growing up, he played baseball, soccer, basketball, volleyball and ran cross country one year (I think). It took him until he got to high school to settle on soccer as his primary focus, and he now plans on playing in college. A lot of kids do this – with hobbies as well as sports. They try a little bit of everything to figure out what they like and what they’re good at. We can do the same thing with writing.

Try writing a screenplay. A poem. A short story. Figure out what you like, what your strengths are. Choose something to focus on. Maybe you just like blogging, and that’s what you want to get better at. Maybe you want to train to be a novelist; an essayist; a screenwriter. Make it easier on yourself. Pick one and run with it.

2. Start with what you have

Fun fact: I learned how to spin flags in college. For no reason other than I was bored and self-conscious about my lack of upper body strength. Problem is, you can’t learn how to spin a flag without a flag. So since my roommate was teaching me, I just borrowed hers until football season ended. By that point, I knew I wanted to keep practicing. So I asked for a flag and weight lifting gloves for Christmas, and once I had them, I could use my own equipment to practice whenever I wanted to.

Writing is similar. You don’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – go out and buy a brand-new laptop, or expensive writing software. What often happens then? You get to excited about your new tech and the idea of using it to start writing your upcoming masterpiece that you spend all your time and energy shopping, purchasing and setting it up that you waste it all. You never actually get to the writing part.

Write first. It doesn’t matter if you have a version of Microsoft Word from 2007 (like me). It doesn’t matter if your laptop is old. Goodness gracious, just sit down and start writing something. Let buying something writing-related be your reward: don’t give yourself the reward before you’ve actually done anything. To this day, opening that flag is still one of my happiest recent Christmas memories. I earned that flag. Practice first, purchase later.

3. Set SMART goals

You’re tired of hearing this. I know: I’m tired of writing about it. But the reason I’m repeating it now (and why everyone else still is) is because it seems to be the one thing new writers cannot seem to grasp. I’m part of a wonderful, supportive writing group on Facebook that encourages everyone to introduce themselves when they are first approved to join. I’ve lost count of how many introductions start with “Hi, my name is Meg, and I want to write a novel someday.” Awesome; I love ambition. But I hope, I really hope, that’s not actually their goal.

Athletes, in my opinion, have it a little easier. They can break down “I want to make it to the Olympics” into smaller goals like, “I want to make it onto this team this season” or “I want to win this tournament” or, in my brother’s case, “I’m working for that MVP and I’m not going to stop working until I get it.” (He will.) But just because they have it easier doesn’t mean it’s impossible for us.

I have a goal to reach a specific number of followers on Novelty Revisions this year – not because I particularly care about views or followers, but because it motivates me to write content every day and continually search for new ways to make it better. I set a goal to finish my novel by July 31. Even though it didn’t happen, I did make a lot of progress, which wasn’t previously happening. Saying you want to be a successful writer or published author just isn’t good enough. I’ve said this at least 50 times already this year and I’m going to keep saying it until it’s drilled too far into your brain to be forgotten.

4. Work – really work

Don’t do what I’ve been doing with my novel all week, which is write a few sentences just to cross it off my list and move on to something else (trust me, I don’t like it either). If you want to level up your writing life, just saying you want to do it isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to work – really work.

That means a little something different for everyone. Some people need to write almost every day to exercise their creativity and keep their ideas flowing. Other people need to keep themselves on a strict writing schedule, even if it isn’t daily. I typically set word count goals to keep myself on track – 1,000 words on this project, 500 words for this one, etc. It’s like training for a half marathon. If I’d skipped a training day, I wouldn’t have been able to run 13.1 miles back in May. So I didn’t skip. At least with writing, rain can’t get in your way.

I don’t spend nearly as much time in forums and writing groups as I used to – not because I don’t want to be a supportive community member, but because I need to write. Discussing writing topics is great, to a point, but if I have a choice between talking about writing with someone and getting some writing done, you can probably guess which one I’m going to choose. Training to write better requires writing, a lot, all the time.

And much, much more.

Stay tuned for my next set of tips to help you train to be a writing Olympian! If you don’t want to miss the rest of this awesome mini-series, that follow button over to the right is yours for the clicking.

Until tomorrow … get back to writing!

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.