I have just finished editing an excellent book on marathon running and the cultural and geographical differences in training and racing. The energy and dedication of these runners leapt off the pages, enticing me, tempting me… and I must admit I briefly entertained the idea of lacing up and hitting the park. I even went to the front hall and gazed lovingly at my Nikes.
But as I slid back into my comfy desk chair for another round of edits, I was struck with the similarity between the process of writing and training for a marathon. Seriously. Both are about endurance and dedication. One of the runners in the book said:
"Training for a marathon is about showing up,
and doing the work."
Many famous writers give the advice, keep your butt in the chair and do the work. Writing, and finishing a piece, be it a short story, blog post, memoir, novel, or a non-fiction book requires setting up a schedule to work and sticking to it. It's not about waiting for inspiration to strike, but sitting down according to your plan, and getting the words on the page. In marathon training, several elements are crucial to success: diet (or as runners call it, fueling), cross-training (swimming, yoga, strength), finding your training tribe, and improving your technique.
So what is the point in making this comparison? Sometimes, in order to achieve your goals, it helps to reframe them, get a fresh perspective, and view your writing project as a whole, comprised of essential elements. It helps tremendously if all the elements are identified and nurtured. Maybe I'm crazy, but what is required to train for a marathon seemed very similar to what is required in getting a writing project done.
Diet/fueling: Runners need to optimize their protein intake, stay hydrated, eat enough carbs, and know what to consume on race day, and what to save for post-race celebrations.
Translation to writing: A writer's food is words. You need a steady flow of them (hydration), the verbs are your protein (to strengthen the power of your content), and the content are your carbs (some carbs are empty calories the same way some content is just filler).
Cross-training: Runners often implement other forms of exercise into their training routine to improve strength and flexibility, prevent injury, and recover easier post-race.
Translation to writing: A writer can't expect to perform at maximum potential if they focus all of their energy on writing. Reading (comparable to being strong, not of body, but mind) is a huge contributing factor when it comes to improving your craft because it generates ideas, enhances vocabulary, lets you know what is current, imprints in your mind the way good sentences are structured, how stories resolve, what conflict looks like.
Acquiring flexibility in writing (I like to call it story yoga) means allowing your piece room to breathe,
not being too rigid in your ideas, and giving it a sense of wholeness.
Find your training tribe: Being part of a running group or finding a running buddy was mentioned by almost every runner interviewed in the book. Running, like writing, can be a very solitary venture. So these runners joined local groups and not only trained together on a fixed schedule, but also socialized after training, and post-race. They motivated one another, provided company on those long cold morning runs, and of course, had common goals, which gave them plenty to talk about.
Translation to writing: As I've mentioned on other blog posts, the biggest hurdle I had to overcome when I moved to Vienna was finding other English-language writers. I joined a round table critiquing group, which eventually led to the idea of starting a more formal writing organization. The writers I got to know over the years helped me in so many ways - to stay motivated on those dreary winter days, to meet up and chat about anything to do with writing, to set goals with and be accountable, and most importantly, to feel part of something bigger than the space of my desk.
Improving technique: Runners must find their stride. There are so many options when it comes to improving technique and increasing speed. There is the whole business of running shoes and getting the optimum fit for your particular foot and stride. There are running clinics that analyze your stride and give tips on making it more efficient.
Translation to writing: A writer’s stride is their voice, not their actual voice but their written voice. To a certain degree this is just practice and authenticity, however, there is so much more involved in producing an excellent piece of writing: readability and flow, understanding sentence structure to create powerful prose, storytelling techniques to keep the reader engaged, strong intros, compelling middles, and satisfying endings (for fiction and non-fiction).
While running is about endurance and speed,
writing is more about endurance and finding a way to engage the reader.
How is this achieved? Practice. Write pieces until the end. Re-write them. Go to workshops to learn about techniques used by professionals. Find sources for constructive feedback. Runners put one foot in front of the other, and writers put one word in front of the other. Both succeed by setting realistic goals and sticking to them. Both are solitary pursuits and benefit significantly from joining groups of like-minded people. Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to write a novel or non-fiction book? Maybe training for a marathon will give you some answers!
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