On running and writing

In the last couple of months, while I’ve been very quiet on this blog, I have actually been doing a lot of writing – and next month, I’m about to do a lot more. 50,000 words more in fact.

After thinking about it for a long time, in September I finally signed up for the Australian Writers Centre Magazine and Newspaper writing course. I had been thinking about doing this ever since the blog post about the photo-shopped school photos went viral and I saw large chunks of my blog post being reproduced. I decided that if I was going to write, perhaps I could get paid for it.

The five-week online course equipped me a lot of useful information and tools, including how to pitch articles, how to structure an article, how to analyse a publication and how to interview. It was delivered via audio each week, with a weekly task which was shared in an online classroom and for which we received feedback. I really enjoyed interviewing a classmate and writing a profile. Completing each of the weekly exercises meant that by the end of the course, I almost had a complete article and pitch ready to use. Most importantly, the course gave me the confidence to give freelance writing a go.

A week after the course ended, I pitched my first story. I decided I was going to participate in the Runaway Barossa half-marathon that I had entered back in June, despite having spent the winter injured or sick. The day before the race, I decided to pitch the story to the local paper and set myself a somewhat unreasonable deadline of providing an article “on-spec” by Monday morning. The editor came back to me and said that while there was unlikely to be space in the weekly print version of the paper, they could run it online.

I survived the 21km, which started with a 4km jog, moved to a jog/walk,  a walk and finally a stagger towards the finish line (and Riesling). After spending Sunday in Adelaide,  I left my story to the last minute (something I will not be making a habit of) and spent Monday morning frantically putting something together. Within an hour of providing it to the editor, it was shared online and while I was disappointed in the lack of proof reading and by the fact I hadn’t pushed for payment, it was still a good experience. I was feeling bad that I had worked for free until a number of people who had graduated from the course said this was still good experience as long as I was clear about why and when I would work for free.

While I have a couple of ideas about features I would like to write, my next step is to speak to a couple of editors and see where there is scope for paid work. One of the big lessons I have learned that unlike blogging, feature writing is not about my opinion and in fact, the trick is to keep yourself out of it.

Launching a freelance writing side-career would probably be enough to keep me going for the rest of the year, but NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and I am giving it another go. The National Novel Writing Month (which started in the US and is now international) is a month long “competition” with the aim of writing 50,000 words. I lasted a day in 2014 (which probably had something to do with trying to write fiction on the barest of outlines) and got about 10,000 words done last year before moving in and setting up our house took over.

I had initially planned to start a novel/memoir of Dad’s life but given the interviews and research it will require, I have instead decided to try a work of fiction. I’m going to have a go at writing the sort of family/inter generational saga/romance that I’ve enjoyed since I first read the Thornbirds as a teenager. Tentatively titled “Budburst”, it will be set here in the Barossa and I’m hoping to weave some historical stories alongside a modern story. I’ve been having a lot of fun plotting it out and I’m making the most of free access to the Scrivener writing app to draw up a rough outline of the chapters. I’ve also been doing lots of research about local history although once Wednesday rolls around, my aim will be to write 1667 words every day and finish the month with a basic story – and a long list of questions to follow up.

I have a few friends who have done it in the past, including my friend Emma, who wrote her novel Unrequited (published by Harper Collins and is being performed as a musical in Canberra this week) during NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. I went along to the Adelaide kick-off party for NaNoWriMo and have also connected with a few other people I’ve met through a couple of podcast groups,  that are planning to do it – so hopefully we’ll be able to keep each other motivated.

Given how long it has take me to write this post, I can’t promise I’ll be blogging in November, but at the same time, once I’m back in the daily habit of writing, knocking out a quick blog post might actually be welcome relief from working on my manuscript. After surving that half-marathin, I’m feeling like anything is possible!

Finding my running groove again

Yesterday I ran in my first big fun run in Australia. The annual City to Bay sees about 35,000 people run from Adelaide to Glenelg. There are options to run or walk the full 12km, 6km or 3km.

I didn’t think I was up to 12km so with some advice from friends, I decided to run the 6km route and to enjoy it. Unfortunately even once I had the goal, distractions of setting up house and study meant my training was still a bit hit and miss and one run with the fitness centre Friday running group had me really doubting myself.

And then last Thursday my Women’s Running magazine arrived and I started reading about people’s running experiences, great races and tips for revamping my running. I was reminded why I enjoyed running and the great sense of achievement on finishing a race. It made me think about the fact that until August 2011, I had been one of those people who said she couldn’t run and had even been teased for her bad running style. But signing up to Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) to lose the weight I had put on after two babies convinced me to give running a try.

My sister was also running and inspired by her, I moved on to the Couch to 5km app and soon I could run 5km. The chance meeting of some girls in Brunei via the 12WBT forums led me to completing a 10km race in Kota Kinabalu in May 2012. The following year, I was training for my first half marathon which was unfortunately canceled due to elections in Malaysia, but I pressed on and entered the amazing Angkor Wat Half marathon in November 2013, the first time I’d had the opportunity to run with my sister. I managed to run the first 12km, then run and walk the next 9km finishing in around 2.40 – and by no means last.

My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon - an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
My sister and I after the Angkor Wat half marathon – an amazing experience running through there temple complex at dawn being cheered on my the locals and having kids grab your hand and run with you, November 2013
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I'll treasure forever
Starting a half marathon as the sun comes up over Angkor Wat is a memory I’ll treasure forever
Part of the race route - Angkor Wat
Part of the race route – Angkor Wat

From the time I arrived at the City to Bay 6km start, I was impressed by the organisation and atmosphere. There were lots of groups in matching gear as race is a great opportunity to race money, or promote a group or issue. There were also lots of people in fancy dress. I was at the start in time to see the fastest 12km runners and wheelchair racers come through which was amazing.

Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run
Start line of the 6km section of the City to Bay run

Despite a slightly slow start due to the number of people, we were eventually out on the road and it was the perfect sunny blue sky running day. There were people all along the route – from spectators and locals cheering on runners to businesses and organisations using it as an opportunity to promote themselves. The drink stops were regular which was good because it was slightly warmer than I’d expected. It was a real carnival atmosphere and I could help but enjoy myself, even though physically I knew I wasn’t in the best shape. Seeing young kids and people running in memory of a loved one or to support a charity provided that extra hit of inspiration.

I ended up making it to the finish line in under 40 minutes which was my goal. Not fast by any means, but I’d kept running and most importantly, I finished feeling inspired to start running again. Suddenly saying I was going to run the Barossa Half Marathon in May 2015, felt like a real goal and not empty talk.

So when I feel like skipping the training, I’m just going to remind myself what I love about running:

  • the friends I have made all around the world because of running
  • the fact that I’m keeping my body and my mind fit (read this great article on why women should run)
  • the amazing experiences of running in different, beautiful places
  • that awesome feeling coming through the finish line yesterday, knowing I had achieved something I had set out to do.
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014
    Feeling happy after finishing to City to Bay, Glenelg, September 2014

    Jetty at Glenelg - great spot to stretch out after a run
    Jetty at Glenelg – great spot to stretch out after a run