RUNNING AND WRITING
I 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?