The first time I went on a 30-day writing steak was in April 2017. I set a goal to write and publish one essay per day for an entire month. This made me largely intolerable to most people for the extent of the project.
I was constantly focused on the topic for the day, obsessed about where the hours of the day had gone for me to write, how I was going to wrap up what I was trying to say or bring it to enough of a conclusion that I could consider it “complete” even if I went back later and developed it into a larger project. Often, I worked up until the last minutes before midnight to make my self-proclaimed daily deadline. I was grouchy, anxious and terrified about what I was putting out there for others to read. My husband and friends wondered why I put myself through the strain and stress of producing 30 days of essays, especially when I wasn’t getting paid or published by anyone other than me.
I decided that my first ever writing streak would be about running and my experience as a runner 15 years after adopting the sport. Writing is like running in that the more you do it, the better you get. Unlike running, I have actually been paid for my writing. That doesn’t make me like running any less. I still keep paying to run marathons for the experience.
On the last day, I wrapped the series and walked away from it to give myself space. I had written about some of my earliest races, some of the most heartbreaking and inspiring memories, and some of the funniest anecdotes, producing more than 25,000 words and enough to start considering moving toward a full book. I have returned to the project only a couple of times since to re-read through a few of the essays, add footnotes and make sure that my late-night writing didn’t lead to headlines like “Wehn Runing isnt fuun” or the like. What I learned most of all was that the discipline and dedication to my own effort was the most important piece of the entire project.
I have learned that there are days when no warm up is needed, when the activity comes easily and is ready when you are. There are also days when you look at what just happened and wondered if anyone witnessed the wreck that unfolded. The most important piece of it all is to show up and keep showing up and have the foresight to know that nothing is final, all can be improved upon and putting in the work consistently will yield proof that I have more durability than I gave myself credit for.
When the steak idea came to me I was two years beyond my short stint as the Family Page editor for The Christian Science Monitor’s Web site, CSMonitor.com. Over that year-and-a-half working there I had tightened my writing with daily exercise, editing and drafting posts, enveloped in words when I wasn’t busy staying at home with my young son. Within months after leaving that job, I was deep into preparing for selling our house to move across the country and was pregnant with my daughter. My writing gained some baby weight; without the daily practice it became a little bloated and unsteady.
The idea of a streak was largely inspired by some of my running buddies, as they made the goal to run every day uninterrupted for as long as they could. I was also staying at home full time with two small children, in the middle of the desert, counting down until my husband left for a six-month deployment. I was reading updates online from friends training for the Boston Marathon, getting antsy and preoccupied with a little too much running on my mind. When I started writing it felt like I would have no problem finding things to talk about, but after the first couple weeks the ideas for each essay became a little harder to develop. This meant that some essays were more par-baked, which gave me practice in cleaning up and getting out of a project before it ate up all my available energy. After those essays I didn’t dwell on what needed to happen to make that essay complete, once the 24-hours in which it was created was done, it was over. The rules I laid out permitted me to put work out there that still had room to grow.
Two years have passed since the last streak and it seemed right to aim for another. This series will focus on “firsts” and what we do with a new experience or idea. Since 2017, I have moved again, settled into a new home, and started a couple new projects. There are plenty of firsts that have happened since the last streak, but also a lifetime of others to explore. I suspect that the leading essays will be rougher than those at the very end as I shake out the stiffness. Each day will start a new essay, with the goal that the bulk of the essay is developed, written and published within a single day. This approach helps me find the fast way into answering why I am writing about each topic in the first place. Because the last thing anybody wants — runner, writer or otherwise — is to take more steps than are truly necessary.
Author’s Note: In 2017 I published 30-days of essays titled “Running Streak” on Medium, of which you can find the first essay here. This is my second series, about firsts.