Monday, September 22, 2014

Writing Marathon Part 1 by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

What is a Writing Marathon?

A running marathon is just a smidge over 26 miles. I got the idea of doing a writing marathon at school with my students while listening to a podcast about NaNoWriMo. I don't usually participate in NaNoWriMo, but I do participate in PiBoIdMo, where I devote the whole month to brainstorming picture book ideas. Several years in a row, I also participated in the PictureBook Marathon during the month of February. The goal was to do write 26 picture book drafts (no matter how bad they were) in 28 days, with two days of rest.

Pushing yourself through a challenge can really make you realize that you can do more than you ever thought possible.

So I put all of these ideas together and tweaked it to make it applicable to fourth and fifth grade students. I wanted them to get a sense of accomplishment that comes with pushing yourself in an area that sometimes can be challenging.

One of the things we noticed as teachers is that students lacked fluency and stamina in writing. For instance, it's hard to get them to persevere for longer than 10-15 minutes in writing.

I knew that from my own writing, in the beginning, when you start to make writing a habit, some days it's hard to get more than a paragraph out. But as you write each and every day, it gets easier and easier to get more words out. It builds your writing muscle.

Creating a Writing Marathon for Students

Who Participates?
I created the writing marathon for fourth and fifth grade students, but you could do this with younger kids or adult writers. In fact, if you are a writer, I challenge you to try this out for yourself.

If you are a teacher who wants to do this at your school, you need to do this WITH your students. It will help you see just how hard it is to push through every day for 26 days. You will become more empathetic when kids are struggling to write, and at the end, you will also accomplish something for yourself.

When is the Marathon?
I set it up in February because it's a short month, and nowhere near the beginning-of-school-craziness, the holiday madness, or the end-of-the-year testing nightmare. February is quiet. And it's a great way to get through one the worst days of winter.

I set ours up before school. School begins at 8:00am, but doors open for students at 7:30am. If students wanted to participate at school with a group, then I met them in the library every morning and wrote with them.

Students could also do it at home, but with so many after school activities, sports, and homework, this sometimes made students get bogged down with other things.

There is something special about writing while still a bit sleepy.

How to Create an Atmosphere

My principal purchased granola bars for our writing marathon. Students came in, grabbed a granola bar, if they wanted one, and a computer. I had soft classical music playing. I highly recommend soft music. It minimizes and sometimes eliminates socializing, and it provides a soothing atmosphere.

Sometimes, as writers we need cues to start. Much like knowing when to come out for your part in the play, you need to know "this is when I write." The music is on, I have something to eat, let's get busy.

How do you create an atmosphere conducive to writing for yourself or your students? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday's post will feature writing marathon resources.

Friday's post will feature impact on writers.


  1. Okay - this fascinates me. Am definitely gonna give this some thought - for MYSELF. Challenges are totally my thing. Thanks, Marcie! Looking forward to the other posts this week!

  2. Thanks, Joanne! Yes, I got a LOT done when I did it myself (with my students). It's amazing what writing you can hammer out when the clock is ticking. :)

  3. I can't wait to hear more about your writing marathon, Marcie. Will you reward yourself with a 26.2 sticker for your car? I second the idea of music to prompt writing. Lately, I've been choosing music that might have a connection with my manuscript, by mood or setting or time period. Who knows? Maybe the music will make my writing more lyrical!

    1. It's funny. I never use music at my house when I'm writing. but at school it seems to still all of the noise. :) And the sticker for my car, well, people will take one look at me and know that I didn't RUN a marathon. ha!

  4. Marcie: The challenge of pushing myself is something that resonates with me today. I will remember your words that I must do more than I ever thought possible. Your 4th and 5th grade students are so fortunate to have a teacher who encourages them to increase their reading and writing fluency and stamina and to push themselves to be all that they can be. I look forward to reading your additional posts. ~Suzy

    1. Thanks, Suzy! At Back to School Night this year, I had a parent ask if we were doing the Writing Marathon again this year. :) Made my night!

  5. This sounds like a fab way for any writer, to boost their work.
    I'm suspecting quite a few of us will be borrowing your marathon ideers, Marcie.
    Appreciations for sharing this.

  6. Marcie, I love this so much! I can't do the morning time because I'm running our school television studio each day; I'm thinking I might be able to do it at lunch with our older kids. This series of posts really got me thinking. May need to brainstorm a bit with you for this February!