You still with me after part 1 and part 2 of this post? Man, you are a rockstar. And yes, this is the last part in this series of posts. Dry those eyes. Don’t think of this as the end. Think of it as the first step to your life as a writer.
We good? Okay. Let’s do a quick recap on the lessons I’ve learned from running that I’ve applied to my writing.
Lessons 1 through 4
Lesson 1: Do it for you. No one else. Setting your sights on other’s expectations will only leave you feeling burned out and never feeling like you fully measure up. So write for you. Not for them. (read more in part 1)
Lesson 2: If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail (not mine, but it’s worth repeating). Make a plan. Have a word count goal. Don’t just dream about. Put those dreams into actionable goals. (read more in part 1)
Lesson 3: Sure it helps to have the right equipment. But you can get started with what you have. Stop creating this perfect situation that needs to happen for you to get started. You don’t need that fancy office space (or shedquarters, if your dreams are like mine). You don’t need that fancy manuscript-writing software. You just need an idea and you need to start writing. That’s it! (read more in part 2)
Lesson 4: Yeah it sucks. Get over it. Hemingway said it best, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s so on point that it’s scary. Because writing IS scary and hard. But so is most everything worth having in this world. Just get over that and keep going. (read more in part 2)
Alright, now on to the new stuff.
Lesson 5: Adrenaline fades quickly. Make sure you’re ready for the long haul.
It’s race time and you’re about to toe the line. You’re feeling jittery as F***. Is it because of the three cups of coffee you inhaled? Is it because you haven’t eaten anything for fear of stomach cramps mid-race? No, my dear. What you’re feeling is a crap-ton of adrenaline that needs to be used up in a hurry. Remember when I said running is always hard? Well for the few fleeting moments where you get to ride the adrenaline-fueled train, it’s not hard. It’s the best feeling ever. It feels like it would be a sin NOT to run while there is this much adrenaline running through you.
The gun goes off. You start running and feel like Leonardo DiCaprio with his arms outstretched at the helm of the Titanic (say it! I know you’ll say it!). You feel like you are a magnificent gazelle, gracefully running through a large African savanna. You are one with your body. You are one with the group of runners to your left and to your right. You could run 100 miles at this pace.
…That is, until you can’t. Your breathing gets harder. Your legs start to feel heavier. You’re no longer a gazelle, but feeling more like a slow-paced water buffalo. Who knows how long you can keep this up. A hill? That’s it. You’re going to die. This is what dying feels like. How many more minutes of this? That’s so many minutes. You are a pathetic loser who bit off more than you can chew.
But then you take a deep breath and think about your training. Your muscles are ready. Your lungs aren’t going to explode like you thought they would. You just need to slow your pace a bit and focus inward. The training was all about whether you can physically run that distance. The race, itself, is about mentally controlling yourself so that you can do the work your body has been training for. Screw adrenaline. You’ve got this.
You dig down. You push. You move forward, even when that adrenaline leaves you.
The decision to write a book and the act of actually writing a book are a lot like this. I mentioned some of this in the “hey this stuff is hard but you do it anyway” lesson. The big difference in writing, though, is that there are a lot more instances of being hopped up on adrenaline and then pushing through even when that feeling leaves you.
With a race, you train for one moment. And then that moment is gone in the blink of an eye. At each new step of writing a book, there is a feeling of jitteriness that fuels you for a bit, but then you have to see it through. You can’t stop when the adrenaline leaves you. And this is what I think plagues a lot of wannabe writers. When the adrenaline fades, when the muse is taking a vacation, when life just gets too hectic, it can be very tempting to walk away with a flippant, “It just wasn’t meant to be” wave of the hand.
I call bullshit on that. I’ve quit a million writing ideas. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But I’ve quit a lot. I store them in a “someday, maybe I’ll come back to that” folder but we both know that’s just a nice way of saying “forever relegated to the back burner of my mind.” But then something happened after I got a couple of races under my belt. I stopped being afraid of the hard road that laid waiting for me AFTER the writing adrenaline left. I let myself be okay with creating what could arguably be the biggest pile of poop ever. And I didn’t die. I finished a first draft. It’s crazy and most of the time it doesn’t make sense, but there is definitely something there.
So again I say, “Screw you, writing adrenaline!” I’m going to keep going and at each turn of the “Meh, I gave it my best, now let’s go drink wine and watch Game of Thrones.” I’m going to dig deep, press pause on those temptations and fight those mental demons to keep progressing forward.
Dig down deep. REALLY DEEP. The journey is so much harder than the choice to start. But you will be so much more alive because of your choice to keep going and seeing it through to the end.
Lesson 6: Drink beer and aim for something bigger.
They say it’s important to stop and smell the roses. The runner’s equivalent? An icy cold beer after you finish a race. That’s one way to celebrate. You could also wear your race shirt and medal for way too long (you earned that sweaty smell, wear it like a badge of honor), but that’s not where I focus my energy. I drink my beer, catch my breath, relax for a bit, and then set my sights on the next challenge.
For a couple of years, my sights were set on running longer and longer distances. Then I ran a marathon. A couple of years later after I had my son, my sights were set on getting back into running by running a half marathon (and dropping the baby weight). I did that. After that I wanted to try something different, so I set my sights on a 12-person team running over 200 miles in 24 hours. I did that, as well. At current, my goals are related to speed, and then after I hit those goals, maybe I’ll try my hand at trail running or competitive jogging-stroller running (that’s a joke, but that should seriously be an event).
The point is, I’m not interested in just maintaining my current running mileage or staying at one speed. That’s not fun, I want to continually shoot for something bigger and more challenging.
Beer first, then try something new. Growth happens when you push through your limits.
At first when you’re writing, you set small goals. And you celebrate in small ways. Or at least, you should if you’re not already. But eventually, you need to set bigger goals to push yourself out of that comfort zone. For me, that was going from a blog post length of 800 -1,000 words, to a first draft of 100,000 words split into two halves and weekly goals within each half. That was a good celebration. But even then, I wasn’t content. I let it breathe, but I knew I had to take the next step. I had to do another thing I’d never done before, edit the damn thing! That’s where I am now, so there’s no celebration on the horizon yet, but I’ve started the process and it’s less scary than I thought it would be. Still, it’s challenging me in a way just hitting a word count never did.
Set your goals. Celebrate your wins. Keep learning and growing.
Running and writing — a match made in heaven.
I can attest that running has only enhanced my writing. And I hope you found some of the above lessons helpful whether or not you’re a runner. This won’t be the last I write on this topic, as I’m pretty passionate about the benefits of having both a running and a writing hobby. Now if only I could create a class that combines running and workshopping your story ideas. Is that a thing yet? It probably is in places like Portland or San Francisco. Maybe Milwaukee is next!
Finally, if you have any interest in learning more about the above lessons, feel free to drop a message below in the comments area. I’d be more than happy to help you set up a training plan for running or writing, or help you tackle your goals in other ways.
Now go be amazing writers!