This past Sunday I participated in a Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon Race. I’ve run full marathons (26.2 miles) before, but this time I was running the half (only 13.1 miles). Since I’ve been training for speed in my runs, the shorter distance seemed a better fit at this time.
It was a hot day in South Texas and the heat was brutal, but I managed to finish the race a full 30 minutes faster than my last half marathon finish time. I can almost hear you guys cheering!
After the race, however, 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 murder mystery, for that matter.
When I first started running many years ago, 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 decided unexpectedly 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 the two seemingly diverse interests of novel writing and long distance running. 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 can’t possibly put one foot in front of the other one more time. 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 at a time. The spine begs for mercy, and muscles that you were never aware of develop cramps that stay with you like garlic in 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 and faster 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 will eventually 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 or a short story. I start another, only this time the storyline is more intriguing, the dialogue more animated, the plot feeling tighter and the dialogue better than in previous scenes.
The lesson here is to always strive to get better, whether that be in a race or with that next thrilling plot, and that takes constant practice and lots of consistent work.
So after my successful run this weekend, I’m planning my next race and the training before it to help me achieve my new goals.
I’m also planning my next short story and continuing to edit my debut novel. As in running, the phrase “practice makes perfect” also applies to the art of writing.
Thought? Comments? I’d love to hear them!