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!