When I was getting in my daily wordcount for NaNoWriMo, I was often struck by how much writing felt like running. At the early stage in both activities, MORE is just MORE. So more words tended to just be good to get down, regardless of the quality. Similarly, my running mileage. More per week, other than on a taper week, was just a good overall approach to getting me ready for Ragnar Napa or the first marathon I had run back in 2013.
At a certain point though, quantity gives way to quality. Certainly in the case of running, making sure to improve my running stride, footstrike, etc. all reduced my likelihood of injury. That was how I fell into the barefoot craze, and why I was able to run 20+ mile weeks on average with none of the prior ailments I had suffered, like the dreaded shin splints or plantar fascitis.
I credit Christopher McDougall’s book with all of this, btw.
Finally with writing, I’m at the point that while more words is always a worthy objective, learning to use them well is just as important.
To that end I have been taking the Depth writing class with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathleen Rusch. I’m at the midway point and I have learned so much. It’s really causing me to evaluate my writing with a new lens.
This is the first paid writing class I have taken and it has turned out to be well worth it. Each week Dean uploads lectures and exercises, we attendees turn in the exercises and he emails us a critique.
After doing this for years, they have a good system down and I’m impressed at my first “distance learning” experience. He gave us an exercise on how to make a simple phrase like “Jack ran to the barn” into a rich and detailed sensory experience. Here is my first assignment, which was to take “Judy ran to the barn” into a 300-400 word snippet:
Week 2: Judy ran to the barn.
Judy’s long legs ate up the long, dusty path to Uncle Jim’s tall, red barn. She loved the way the barn looked, its white striping as pristine as one of the images in her nephew’s picture books. Other than her nephew Owen, this tourist trap was her favorite thing about this whole summer staying at the farm.
As she jogged, her trailrunners kicked up small puffs of dust, and she adjusted the heavy little box of berry jams she was lugging over. Not even noon but the August sun scorched her bare skin, and sweat dripped down her forehead and nose, causing her sunglasses to slide down the bridge of her nose. The cardboard chafed against her bare arms, a debate Judy had made between protecting her forearms and the oppressive heat when donning a faded tank top. With her long brown hair pulled up into its usual messy bun, the sun beat down on the back of her bare neck as well and Judy was glad she’d sprayed a gallon of sunscreen on this morning as she’d packed for the beach.
All the handcarts were missing so she’d made four trips so far to lug the latest batch of Aunt Gwen’s prized jams from the house kitchen to the barn shop.
A holiday weekend, but Judy had gotten out of cashier duty only to be roped into inventory duty. Normally she enjoyed working in the barn shop with its whirring ceiling fans, long tables of fresh and dried fruit and local goods. Chatting up tourists and getting paid in all cash definitely beat berry picking duty and fending off yellowjackets. But today was a coveted day off so she could head out to the beach and meet her friends down in Santa Cruz for the weekend.
Tucked into the pocket of her gray surf shorts, her cell phone beeped repeatedly, and Judy winced at the pinging alerts, knowing her buddies were texting her to meet at the boardwalk. She couldn’t wait to kick off her runners, wiggle into her flip flops and cruise to the coast in her stepdad’s ancient silver Camry with the windows down and breathing in that salty ocean air. Instead of the relentless heat of the farm, she imagined basking in the breeze coming in off the Pacific. Soon.