Tag Archives: writing

On Sprinting

This morning I read an article by Seth Godin that I liked: "Sprint!"

The best way to overcome your fear of creativity, brainstorming, intelligent risk taking or navigating a tricky situation might be to sprint.

This is a technique that I use for writing. Every day (usually), I sit down for 15 minutes and write. I expect the full composition to be a book, Above Cedar Creek, a memoir from working at Boy Scout camp in Illinois. It's still a long ways off, but I'm getting there.

I use a 15-minute writing sprint for two reasons.

First, I have a day job, and I plan to keep my day job. I need a plan that keeps me motivated and writing regularly, but fits in the space that I have.

Second, writing is often a terrifying experience. Sometimes it's easy and the locution of camp writes itself, as if it was released under pressure from within. Those are great days. Many of the days are not like that. Looking at the next 80,000 or 100,000 words from where I stand is daunting. But, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Performing a 15-minute sprint makes me look at what is directly in front of me -- 400 or 500 words in a defined time -- instead of getting discouraged by the remoteness of the end goal. Sprinting doesn't eliminate my fear, but it keeps me from focusing on it and thus getting stopped by it.

Granted, after 15 minutes of unedited sprinting, I don't have a very good episode. But I don't expect that. Editing comes later, and editing requires a different set of muscles; editing is a long grind. After 15 minutes I have a core of useful material. From this point, the effort is to free the underlying form from the stone:

The marble not yet carved can hold the form Of every thought the greatest artist has.

--Michelangelo Buonarroti, via The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.

My First Book: Above Cedar Creek

There's one nice thing about nobody reading my blog: I can post things without much fear of anyone reading. And judging. Obscurity is a confidence builder of sorts. So, I'll point out something that's been right and written under your nose. The chances that you, unlikely reader, are going to notice it are small. That gives me false confidence. Good enough.

I want to write a book. I want to write three -- or at least two-and-a-half because one feels more like a short story -- and they're all memoirs. That makes me really apprehensive. I'm 27. I've done nothing of note in 27 years, so it feels presumptuous to think about writing about me and my experiences. But I'm nagged by the idea, and I have a huge ego hidden inside me.

The three books go like this: (1) about working at Ingersoll Scout Reservation, a Boy Scout summer camp in midwest nowhere, titledĀ Above Cedar Creek; (2) about my spring in the Mojave Desert in 2005, plus the trip to and from, titled Mojave Road in the Sky; (3) about my trip to India in Winter 2005/2006, titled Train Cancellation Party.

I put a few thousand words into Train Cancellation Party back in spring 2006, but it began to feel goofy and condescending. Then I went to Europe for a few months. I have barely touched it since then. It's close to my heart. It's radioactive. If I touch it, it might blow up. I'm afraid of it. I'm going to cut it off at the knees and make it a short story, or maybe fictionalize it.

I've been working on Above Cedar Creek more intently over the past two months. In June, I clenched my fists and decided that it was time to stop thinking about writing a book and start writing a book. I heard that's how books get finished. Over the weekend, I passed the 20,000 word mark. I have no idea if this is a lot to a "real" writer. It's a hell of a lot of words to me, especially since they're about one of my least favorite subjects: me.

Here's the punchline. You could have been reading every single word that I've written. Let me pull back the curtain: Above Cedar Creek, in progress. Several times a week, I sit down for 30 minutes and try to write a book. It's embryonic now. Each of the 30 minutes sessions has been a forced sprint, something to hack my athletic sensibilities to beat my apprehension of writing. For me to sit down and write a chapter is difficult because I worry about the beginning and the end and how much, etc. I worry about some expectations that aren't my own. I get wound up about the the full text before a single paragraph is written. Blasting for 30 minutes gets me past that fear. It's go, go, go, no time to worry about anything. I don't stop and edit anything except spelling errors; I hate those. Editing will come later.

In about three hours, I'm boarding a plane to Calgary, and I'm taking a few printed pages of the book with me, double spaced, ready to be smeared in red ink. I've done some very light editing on the "Liberating Chuck" chapter, but otherwise, it's a few pieces of stream-of-consciousness linked together.

I'm making apologies already. I hate that. What I mean to say is: I wrote, now it's time to unwrite and rewrite. It's not perfect, but I'll make it perfect. Eventually. I prefer editing to writing. I find it's much more comfortable to arrange... and rearrange... and manipulate... and modify... and identify cracks... and repair them. I'm looking forward to putting down the first 80,000 or 100,000 words and then taking a hammer to all of them.

So, here are the first three chapters of Above Cedar Creek, in order of completeness, not necessarily in order they'll be in the full piece. When completed, this will detail my time as a Boy Scout camp counselor and what I learned. Maybe it will be like Desert Solitaire, without the chainsawed billboards, or Walden, without the pompousness of Thoreau. I'm looking forward to the end of it, to see how it goes.

  1. "Liberating Chuck"
  2. "Friday Night MC"
  3. "Captain's Skyline Trail"

So, that's that. I'm writing my first book. You can see it. That's scary. If you read it, drop a note. I don't expect much in the way of style or content yet, but if you've embarked on a similar journey, I'd be interested to hear how you made it through without incinerating yourself or the manuscript.

By the way: The title, Above Cedar Creek, is related to the flooding of 1993 -- and other years, such as 1998 -- where it's all you can do at camp to stay above Cedar Creek. This title beat out Mosquitos, Raccoons, and Other Things That Still Cause Me to Wake Up Sweating Ten Years Later.

Now, a plane to catch to Calgary...