finishI am a runner. I was reluctant to call myself that for years. After all, I’m not an elite runner. Not like Shalane Flannagan or Paula Radcliffe. And I never ran track or cross country in high school or college. But after more than 10,000 miles of putting one foot in front of the other at a faster-than-walking pace, maybe it’s time to assert that title. And after typing tens of thousands of words on a keyboard, I may lay claim to another epithet, but that’s a subject for later in this article.

I ran my first 5K a couple of decades ago. I knew nothing about training or strategy, but an acquaintance suggested it and I was game. Back then there weren’t electronic timing devices, so the organizers would hand you a card when you crossed the finish line that indicated your place. The idea was to write your name on the card and drop it in a basket for your age range.  I was such a novice I thought they were handing out door prize cards at the finish line!

There weren’t any door prizes, of course, but when I discovered I did well in my age group, it lit a fire in me that’s still burning. I wanted to become a runner.

I jumped in with both Nikes. I knew one thing: that I didn’t know much about running. Doesn’t that sound a lot like those of us who decided to write a book? We may have the desire but lack the experience, confidence, and tools to succeed.

I acquired all the equipment and knowledge I could, but it isn’t enough to have the right shoes and show up on race day. To become a good runner, one must train.  Intervals at the track to increase speed, long runs and hills along park trails to strengthen muscles, tempo runs through the neighborhood to build endurance. For every 5K I ran, I must have put in hundreds of miles of training. It was hard work but I was getting stronger and faster. Isn’t that the same with writing? Few people can sit down and whip out 80,000 words of first rate fiction. Even talented writers have to train by forcing themselves to tone their writing muscles every day.

My training runs didn’t always go well. Some days I felt tired and didn’t meet my training goals. There were aches and pains and a few injuries along the way. But all runners know that improvement isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come all at once. You pay for it one mile at a time. You accept that there will be setbacks, but you don’t give up. It’s all about slow and steady progress. Anybody see the similarities to writing?

Training eventually leads to racing, and racing requires even more stamina and determination. Good runners learn to pace themselves through a marathon one mile at a time. Sometimes the race doesn’t go the way you expected and you have to re-think your strategy. Negative thoughts, frustration and discouragement are always close at hand, ready to sabotage your efforts, but you know the real reward is in finishing the race. The only disappointment is if you don’t try. Same with writing.

When I began my novel several years ago, I assumed it would be an easy task. After all, I had always done well in English classes. Teachers loved my essays. But like my novice runner self, I soon learned that there was a world of information I didn’t know. And a sophisticated skill set I didn’t have.

But just like running, there are plenty of resources for novice writers: books, podcasts, online courses, conferences, and tons of blogs. Professional editors can help an author turn a mediocre manuscript into a polished deliverable.

I learned that writing strength comes slowly and steadily, through consistent practice and attention to all the good advice that’s available. Like a seasoned runner, the writer keeps her eye on the finish line while carefully navigating the next chapter. And she deals with disappointment and rejection as part of the learning process, but hard work and persistence are bound to pay off.

And so I write on, one word after another. A slow jog of backstory here, a quick dialogue beat there, until miles of sentences build up. My novel, The Watch on the Fencepost, is being published by CrossLink Publishing and is due to be released later this year. It was my first literary race, but, God willing, it won’t be my last. Now it’s time to start training for the next one. I am a writer.

  • What experiences have you had with running or writing that enlightened you?
  • What’s the best advice you have for new writers? Or runners?


  • Oh, I enjoyed reading this one! You wouldn’t believe it to see all 200+ pounds of me now, but i used to be a runner. In the army, of course, we ran every day–not a fast run, but what they called an “airborne shuffle” that you could keep doing all day long. The thing i don’t think they ever anticipated, though, was that some of us might like it enough to do it when we didn’t have to. And so for many years i did run, as I said, “just for the halibut.” I could do five miles carrying my M16 at port arms; in Germany I would run–shuffle–through 10 and 20K volksmarches. Like you, I had no idea what I was doing; all I knew was that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I’d get someplace. I even kept doing it–for a while–after we got to Florida, where no sane person should run. And then my knees gave out, both of them. Not decently in the joints, so I could get a new knee and keep going, but in the knee tendons. To this day there are days when I wake up and know it’ll take a miracle just to walk to the bathroom. So it’s strictly walking for me, and I never found walking much fun.

    But your blog has given me a different way of looking at it. You can still get someplace by walking–maybe not as fast as by running, but you’ll still get there if you just keep doing it. I have been working on a story I started last year that I think could be a good one…but I put it down one day and said “I’ll never get there; this stinks.” Now I’m thinking I’ll “airborne shuffle” there. Slowly. One foot in front of the other. One word after the other. Maybe the first draft will stink. I’ve heard it said that’s what first drafts are for. That’s why God invented editing. 🙂

    • Mel,

      I love your comment! You made my day — my week — my year!

      I can’t wait to read your story. If it’s close to being as entertaining as your blog comments, I know it’s great.

      Never give up.

      • The qualities you list for both writing and running would seem applicable for all of life’s accomplishments. If you run as well as you write you will do well. In either case you are a winner.
        Harry Samuels

    • Mel,

      I am willing to believe many things; however I don’t believe you are capable of writing a story that offends olfactorily—ain’t gonna happen (unless you decide to write one about skunks) 🙂

  • Harry, Thank you! Coming from you, my friend, that is quite a compliment.

  • You ARE a writer indeed, Kay! Even in your blogs you have such a way with words–and encouraging others, both in writing and running. Excellent advice for both realms. Just as an athlete needs training and a trainer, writers need the same–which in their case would be craft partners and editors, someone to urge them on in learning the intricacies of the trade and challenging and guiding them to excellence. Training for anything takes time if you’re in it for the long haul. My advice would be: Always be willing to learn!

  • What a great analogy for the writing process! You are so right on that we expect ourselves to just sit down and write a great novel or non-fiction book when what we need to do is train and learn. Of course, training is not really the fun or glamorous part. 🙂 It takes commitment, coachability, and persistence. However, the training done when we didn’t feel like it, and in the wind, rain, and sweltering temperatures, certainly comes through on race day! Congratulations on completing your first writing “race,” and I look forward to your next book!

    • Thank you Beth! Your encouragement at the Mt. Hermon Writers Conference inspired me to keep working. You are a treasure in the writing community.

  • I just read your blog and I love it. I admire your determination to accomplish your goals. I love your style of writing. Happy to call you my friend. Nancy Freire.

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