Thursday, 3 October 2013

Doing your bit for charity and more writing tips by Tracy Baines

Gosh, just the thought of listening to how someone has run a marathon is enough to exhaust me! I’d love to say I was one of these people who are the first to sign up for sponsored walks, runs or swims but I’m not.  In fact the last time I did a sponsored walk was in 1978. The day before, I bought myself a nice new pair of trainers, white with a red flash. First mistake. After 4 miles the skin was off my heels and the red flash was the blood seeping up my socks. The walk was through country lanes mostly, although I recall that the cluster of people I was with (the laggers) got lost, as we ended up walking through ploughed fields and surely that wasn’t on the route?  I soldiered on for the remaining 22 miles, my only panic that the organisers would leave without us. The sight of the coach waiting to take us home was such a relief I almost ran to it.  As I soaked in a hot bath that night,  wearing my socks – the only way I could get them off was to soak them and prise them away – I thought the worst was over. And it was, until the next morning when I could not bend my rigid legs and had to manoeuvre myself down our very steep stairs for breakfast. Not surprising that I never attempted another is it?

So in future, all my charitable efforts were mainly sedentary. Sponsored silences (very difficult), sponsored bakes, sponsored discos. I diligently collected old keys and bottle tops for the Blue Peter Appeal, year in, year out. I’ll put money in every charity box I pass,  get the stickers, buy fifteen poppies and fifteen pins each November. Anything that doesn’t involve trainers and I’m in.

That’s why I think having a writing prize is such a good thing. It gives those of us who want to do their bit for charity but aren’t of an athletic disposition a chance to get involved. You can contribute your words as well as your money – and you don’t get blisters!

Writing is a lot like running a marathon. The lesson I should have learnt all those years ago was to be prepared and to do my homework/training. I should have bought my trainers long before the walk and worn them in so that they were comfortable on the day - or better still bought some good strong walking boots. I should have started doing short walks over time and built my stamina and endurance for something more substantial. Writing's the same in many ways. You can't just dive in and expect to write a novel straight off. You might wander along a few wrong paths, get a few blisters but you're learning all the time, a better way to do things, a clearer way of expressing your thoughts and ideas.

Flash fiction is a great way of getting writing, letting those ideas pour out onto the page. But it's no less a skill than any other writing. You have to put the work in, get your bum on the seat and sit there, shaping your words until they express what you want to share with the world. Give yourself a head start on this year's competition and get laying those words down on the page. Get yourself in training, building your stamina, day by day. Don't leave it until the last minute like I did all those years ago. You'll get blisters.

So here are my tips for building stamina in your writing. Lots of people think you need to set aside two or three hours to write but that's not necessarily true. We all have busy lives and where are we going to find all those extra  minutes let alone hours? Start small and build up to longer sessions. We can all find ten minutes while we are standing at the bus stop, sitting in the car waiting to collect the kids from school or waiting for the kettle to boil. The trick is to have a pen and paper at the ready at all times so we can make use of those precious minutes. Try to make it a regular appointment with yourself, the same ten minutes, each and everyday. Once you have the habit of writing regularly you can extend that time to fifteen minutes, then twenty. Most people can write 200 words in ten minutes. Times that by 5 and you have 1,000 words - or two flash fiction entries to work on. What's stopping you! Get writing!

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