I do both. Writing and running. I’ve done them both for a long time.
There is a point during a longish run when the mind eases and thoughts bubble to the surface. I guess the breathing and exertion push the intellect back into a corner and a more primal state takes precedence. During this time I have often worked out plot details and created new pathways for my story. It is deep thought that happens without really thinking.
You don’t have to be running marathon distances or at speeds challenging a superhero. You do need to run enough in the right form that you move smooth and easy. When the running becomes second nature then the magic starts to happen. It takes a little while, but it is well worth the focus. Neither writing or running well is easy, but they do become natural if you put in the time the right way. In my point of view they share three fundamental attributes that you as practitioner of either or both have to master.
1) They are individual sports. Yes, writing is like a sport, but without the aerobic conditioning. Unless you are writing erotica. Writing takes concentration and focus and tenacity and the desire to fail before you succeed. And you do it on your own. Even when you are with other people (writer’s group or group runs) you are working solo while mingling feedback loops in real time with other people. It is your rhythm, motion, movement, execution that is happening and it is in your control.
As a writer, I know I am the one with pen in hand and blank paper to assault (or keyboard on typewriter). If you love writing, then you develop this as a habit. And habits are a form of discipline. As a runner, I learned that no one else is going to put on the shoes and run for me. If I want to run a half marathon, it is me and only me who can put in the miles to get there.
2) You need a coach. We live in a wonderful world of options. Social media has given us some fantastic opportunities. With all the help we writers get these days we won’t be publishing drivel like Of Mice and Men, or To Kill A Mockingbird, or Breakfast of Champions, or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to name a few. Those poor writers had no community to help them create their work. We, fortunately, have a lot of help. Yeah, even though I am kind of writing a blog about writing, I think there are too many “how to’s” in the ether at the moment. It feels like there are as many people telling us how to write as there are writers. But a list of how too’s is not coaching.
Listen. Whether you are writing or running, you need some expert feedback. A seasoned coach can look at your running form and quickly point out a slight correction that will change everything for you. Yet,iIt is still up to you to make the correction a part of your form. That is back to you being the only one accountable for the end product.
As a writer, you need to get words on the page. Craft them individually as best you can and then get some feedback. The assumption is that you have tendered a good story that you are satisfied with. When I put my first book out to an advanced reader who was also a published author, I got some amazing feedback. The suggestions she made to me changed the way I expressed my story and made it much better.
A few years ago I changed my style of running to a minimalist, more natural form. I found good instruction online and followed the Pose Method. It made a world of difference to have someone with experience let me know I was doing it right.
The key is whether you buy into the coaching and will implement the decision. That boils down to trust. Do you trust the person giving you the advice? My editor, Savannah, is also my coach.
I’m not a beginning writer, so what I need is a little different than someone just starting out. She understands that and the kind of editing/coaching I get from her is more about prompting me to do it better then it is about basic writing methodology (although I still slip on some of that). Even the great athletes still get coaching. I mean, Tiger Woods still takes lessons. It is critical to know that you always have something new to learn. s your experience grows coaching becomes a partnership.
3) Deal With It. Fixing your running form or your prose seems daunting, but it isn’t. I am assuming that you are running in a manner that is acceptable or that your story is good in its core, just not in its telling. If you are fundamentally flawed (I mean no offense to people with physical disabilities) then “fixing” may not be an option and you may be needing somethiing more substantive. A coach can tell you that, too. At the end of the day, it is up to you to hunker down and fix the problems others have pointed out. There is no magic to making a good story great. It is hard work.
Given good bones, so to speak, tuning is a matter of small adjustments. And then listening to feedback. Honestly. Your body will give you great feedback when you run. You have to learn to listen to it. Simple things like how it feels when your foot strikes, whether you feel your head bobbing up and down (it shouldn’t), if you feel impact up through your leg into your hip joint (which I did for 40 years of running the wrong way), if your breathing feels easy or rough. All of those micro feelings tell you whether you are in sync or out of form. Once you feel the right form, which means you feel smooth and easy in your stride, then you can just monitor to make sure you are in that form.
When I got that writing feedback from my first real beta reader I dreaded the thought of having to go back and re-write my whole book. I discovered her comments were easy to implement (especially with word processors). I call it the 10% window. Most major revisions impact less than 10% of your personal final draft. There is a condition there. In writing, you write the first draft for yourself. It gets on the paper quickly and with little regard for the details. It is up to you to take that first draft and make it into a first public draft. It is the public draft that I am talking about. If you get consistent feedback about a plot or style issue, then fix it. You had your fun in your first draft, now it is time to make it readable for your target audience. Of course, there are no absolute rules. If you love the nuance of what you have done, whether it is running or writing, then stick with it. But make sure it helps you move forward clean and true. Not everyone is the same and a good coach, like my editor, knows that I have my style of writing and she wants me write as the best me possible. It is up to you to make it work.
I could have done this comparison between writing and other endeavors – music, painting, or any art-oriented effort. It’s not the same. The physical effort of running has a unique impact on the mind. They compliment each other in contrary ways, if that makes sense. Maybe for you it is yoga, walking or cycling, but the physical movement will help you focus once you get into that zone.
Writing a novel is a lot like preparing for a marathon. You have take a disciplined approach. Find a methodology that works for you and stick with it. You are in it for the long haul. It will hurt and it will be frustrating and you will find a thousand reasons not to run or write. Tough shit. Do it.
Any schedule is just a template. Adjust, modify, make it work for you, but focus on it and not the interference. When I talk about discipline, that is what I mean. Not letting the noise become more important than the signal. Set lots of intermediate goals that you can tick off along the way. You can have a bad day. We all do. But you’ll catch up.
Write well, Run free.