This month I’m running two marathon races. When I mention that fact to people who don’t run, they usually ask, “Why?” I’m not completely sure of the answer! Maybe the simple truth is that it’s because I can and I love the thrill.
Having recently completed the Chicago Marathon on October 9th, I’m now ramping up my training for the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, DC on October 30th. I’ve run full marathons (26.2 miles) before, but NEVER have I run two within 21 days.
I can’t decide if I’m motivated by some psychological death wish or if I’m absolutely crazy. Maybe I’m trying to hold on to whatever youthful energy that may be left in me. More than likely, it’s some combination of all of the above, plus the thrill of being among people who love mental and physical challenges.
At this year’s Chicago Marathon, the weather was wonderful—blue skies and temperatures that ranged from the low 50s to the mid-60s. I finished in a respectable four hours and twenty-seven minutes. I’m proud of my accomplishment. Even my sore legs and feet could not wipe the smile off my face.
After the race, 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 plot. Both involve a process and much training.
When I first started running many years ago, I didn’t put on running shoes and suddenly knock out a ten-mile training run. I started by huffing and puffing (think sounds like a freight train) through a one-mile run, then two, and so on. Finally, I took an important step and signed up for a 5K (3.1 miles) race, then later a 10K race and on to half marathons and finally full marathons.
In much the same way, I slowly started to learn 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 after several successful newsletter adventures. I’ll admit that there were false starts and the endless hours of writing meaningless chapters that eventually got tossed, but—like in running—I got better the more I practiced and studied how to write fiction.
One would think it unimaginable to compare the two seemingly diverse interests of long distance running and novel writing. 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 has 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 continue placing one foot in front of the other. Runners often talk about getting psyched up or psyched out. The translation of that phrase 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 threads in both of these activities are to start small, rely on repetitive actions and learn from your mistakes.
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 commonality between running and writing is what happens after crossing that finish line in a race. I usually sign up for another race, vowing to run better 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 narrative more descriptive than in previous manuscripts.
The lesson here is to always strive to be better, whether that involves a race or writing that next story. Both require constant practice and lots of consistent work.
So after my successful run in Chicago recently, I shook off the sore legs and exhaustion and set my sites on that next marathon in Washington, DC.
That’s also how it is with my writing. I have two novels published and both are getting favorable reviews. I’ve completed my third novel, it’s been professionally edited and now I’m doing some final polishing before that gets published later this year.
And after that? I already have a new plot laid out for a murder mystery that will be published in 2017. As for my running, I have a third marathon to run in December of this year.
Just like in running, the phrase “practice makes perfect” also applies to the art of writing. Take courses in writing, write something every day and keep a journal of plot ideas for that next masterpiece.
Thought? Comments? I’d love to hear them!