While on an eight-mile run yesterday, I was thinking about how I learned the skills for my two favorite passions: writing and running. I didn’t wake up one morning able to run a marathon or know exactly how to create a suspense thriller.
When I first decided to start running (eventually running marathons – 26.2 miles), I didn’t put on running shoes and suddenly knock out a ten-mile training run. There was a bunch of huffing and puffing (think: sounds of a freight train) through one mile, then two, and so on. Then I signed up for a 5K (3.1 miles), then a 10K and on to half marathons.
In much the same way, I started slowly learning the craft of writing. I’ll concede that I simply decided one day to write a novel, but that was after years of technical writing and many successful newsletter adventures. Then came the false starts and the endless hours of writing meaningless chapters that eventually got tossed.
One would think it unimaginable to compare two seemingly diverse interests. On the surface, one is purely physical and the other entirely cerebral. But I assure you that running is as much cerebral as it is physical. Anyone who’s run a marathon will tell you that it’s the mind that keeps propelling you forward when the legs are screaming that you cannot possibly put one more foot in front of the other. Runners often talk about getting psyched up or psyched out. The translation is that one is motivating and the other defeating.
In much the same way, there’s a truly physical component to the creative action of writing. Ask any writer how grueling it is to sit in front of a computer screen for four, six or more hours. The spine begs for mercy and muscles that you were never aware of develop cramps that stay with you like garlic from an Italian lunch.
The common thread in both of these activities is to start small and rely on repetitive actions. In running, it’s simply putting one foot in front of the other, pounding the pavement day after day and going a little farther each time. With writing, it’s putting one word after another, one thought that turns into a scene and scenes that shape into chapters. After much trial and error, you’ll find that you eventually are able to propel a storyline into a meaningful tale of adventure.
Another common experience is what happens after crossing that finish line in a race. I usually sign up for another, vowing to run faster and farther in the next one. And that’s exactly what happens after completing a novel. I start another, only this time the storyline is more intriguing, the dialogue more animated, the story feeling tighter and better thought out than the previous one.
The bottom line is to always strive to get better, whether that be in a race or with that next thriller, and that takes constant practice and lots of consistent work.
Thought? Comments? I’d love to hear them!
What a great piece! Brilliant how you begin discussing the unique features of running and writing, and then discuss their similarities. It was engaging from the very first sentence, and it drew me all the way through. And taht’s what writing is all about! A great piece and a model for all of us who aspire to write — or is is perspire while we write? Or both? As a writer and a former runner, I can relate fully. Wow! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, James, for those kind and encouraging words. All the best, James J.
Running and writing involve the same level of determination, and the willingness to fail without quitting. The same applies, I think, to almost any “work” effort that you enjoy. This could be music, dancing, dispensing medicine, computer programming, or welding. But at least in my case, I needed one more element: a teacher or mentor (or usually a set of them) who can give you advice on the best way to put one foot in front of the other.
One hint: stop sitting to write. It is uncomfortable (or too comfortable) and confining. Stand up, move around, look at different things. When the words flow your mind will naturally draw you in, even without a supporting chair.
Thanks for the advice, Walt. We’ve talked about standing (instead of sitting) at the computer and you’re a good example of (and an inspiration for) that. Time to “take a stand” and hope the words continue to flow.
what a great blogs Mr.James
i`ve been studying pharmacy in pharmacy college in Indonesia. and…all those day are a horrible day. LOL. pharmacy student very busy. i even think that…somehow..i forget to eat just for study. hahha. but, i have an idea, what if a write my life..in happines and sadness when i was studying pharmacy. your blog give me an inspiration. but, i just gonna write some “easy thing” so people could understand our profession better than before. because in my country, pharmacy is not “a great profession” in people eyes. so..i hope with my novel, it would change the point of view.
*i am sorry, my english is bad. i`m glad to found your blogs.thank you
Thanks for your comments & good luck on your pharmacy career! Study hard & you will succeed and have a prosperous life. I was in various parts of Indonesia last year & loved your country & it’s people. All the best!