Flexing my writing muscles

If you have visited my other, sports-based blog recently, you will have noticed that my output has stepped up quite dramatically over the last few weeks. Not surprising, really, given that we had first the World Cup and then the one great passion of my sporting summer, the Tour de France, which is currently approaching its halfway point.

I committed myself to writing daily updates on the Tour as a personal project, to flex my writing muscles and to prove to myself that I was capable of grinding out 1,000-plus words per day of not-quite-rubbish on a topic I am reasonably knowledgeable and passionate about.

The mother of all projects – so why bother?

In total, over the space of about four weeks, the plan is to write at least one post per day, covering race previews, stage updates (including the occasional live-blog) and post-race wrap-up. All that should add up to about 35 posts in 28 days, with each being typically 1,200 to 1,500 words in length.

Or, to put it into context, by the time I have finished I will have written about 50,000 words – about the equivalent of a PhD thesis – in four weeks. In my spare time. While also holding down a full-time job.

Image courtesy of Kristina B

It means a lot of late evenings throughout the week. A typical 1,500 word stage review takes an hour and a half from start to finish, in addition to which I am still writing other sporting posts and keeping this blog going. On average, I am writing until close to midnight most days, and occasionally past 2am when double-posting.

All of which begs the question: why bother? After all, I’m not doing it for money, or because there are thousands of people out there hanging on my every word.

The simple answer is that it’s all about personal satisfaction: I really, really enjoy the process of self-publishing a piece that hopefully a few people will find worthy of spending a couple of minutes of their time perusing.

Yes, I’m under constant pressure to keep the words churning, but I’ve always worked best under these circumstances. In fact, I’m rubbish when I don’t have a deadline or some kind of other stress hanging over me. When things are easy, I can struggle to produce 200 vaguely coherent words in an hour. Under pressure, my output increases four or five-fold and – if I don’t say so myself – some of what I have done in a madcap rush over the past couple of weeks ranks among the best writing I’ve ever done.

And rather than being perpetually tired at the longer hours I’m keeping, I’m finding I actually have more energy to carry me through the working day simply because I have something to focus on that I’m passionate about.

In the midst of it all, my personal writing process remains unchanged. It’s not something I’ve taken from a textbook, rather it has evolved gradually over the last couple of years. There are five fundamental steps that work for me, which I call the ‘Five Ps’: Plan, Prepare, Produce, Polish and Publish. More on that another time, maybe.

Image courtesy of Steve Bridger

Worth the effort?

So, what have I learned so far? And has it been worth it?

Quite a lot, actually. And definitely.

The old aphorism that says the more you write, the easier it gets is definitely true in my case. Already, in the space of a few weeks, I can feel that I am writing faster and better than before. I’ll never be a journalist, bashing out 700 fast words to meet a print deadline, but that’s not my aim anyway. What I will be is a better feature writer, and one who enjoys the process of creating a narrative, doing the research and then committing finger to keyboard to turn ideas into reality. In fact, I’m enjoying writing a post a day far more than I did when I was just ekeing out one a week.

For me, having a readership has always been a bonus, not the main objective of my writing. I’ve had unprompted compliments from a few friends (always gratifying – keep them coming, folks), but I had never previously considered writing for a wider audience – even though a blog is, by its nature, public. Recently, though, I have started to explore the murky waters of analytics, search engine optimisation (SEO) and self-promotion as something of a personal challenge. As a result, instead of having a trickle of daily page views, I hit a peak of nearly 1,000 in one day earlier this week. Even at that level, I’m not exactly Mashable! (technology), the Huffington Post (news) or Arseblog (Arsenal). I know that level of readership isn’t sustainable ongoing – it has been fuelled primarily by the World Cup, the Tour de France and no small amount of effort engaging with other bloggers – but it means I must be doing something right, which gives me a warm glow of achievement.

Blogging has also introduced me to a wide variety of people, all of whom share a common interest, whether it is Arsenal, the World Cup, the Tour de France, technology or various TV shows. Some of these people are seriously brilliant and knowledgeable writers, far better than I will ever be, and there are things I can learn from everyone I read. I will never meet many of the people I interact with on a (semi-)regular basis, but I would still count several of them as friends.

Best of all, poking my nose out into the blogosphere has – through sheer serendipity (isn’t that such a great word?) – brought me into contact with people whose paths I would never otherwise have crossed. Look hard enough and you will find a comment from the singer Suzanne Vega on one of my posts about the joys of fatherhood, and I have also been trading thoughts about the Tour de France with the writer of the Australian children’s TV series Bananas in Pyjamas (hi there, Richard). I love that sort of random event; those alone make the whole exercise worthwhile.

So that’s it, really. Like any good form of exercise, flexing my writing muscles is proving to be both beneficial and enjoyable. After the end of this month, I will crank it down a notch but my output will certainly still be higher than it was before. I’ll be aiming for a happy medium of a combined 4-5 posts – equivalent to 6-10 hours – per week across my two blogs. That’s less of a commitment than, say, watching Big Brother. And infinitely more satisfying.