Running to Write

It seems like a lot of my writer friends are also runners, which is a good thing. I have run since the age of thirteen and it changed my life. This remains the seminal experience of my teenage years, whether the fall cross-country meets, sizzling spring track workouts, or the fun-runs in between (which are usually anything but). I had come to a very awkward and unhappy point in my life at thirteen, if not running I am sure I would have chosen Hare Krishna. Running, especially long distance running, offered the sort of discipline (and devotion) that I needed.

Of course, all to say I am pretty interested by the intersections between my two passions. I read a great blog entry from Literature Is Not Dead the other day via my friend Kristan Hoffman’s blog: “Running through Writing’s Solar System” which laid out the parallels between the two things. To paraphrase: Running takes practice, so does writing. Those who hit the pavement more often are the ones likely to succeed, just as the writers who lock themselves in rooms are the ones who earn the most money.

I would add a couple of layers. One, quantity of writing never equals quality. If that were the case, the phonebook would be a classic of world literature. It’s the stories and language that counts. Nor should writing ever be a race. Sometimes it’s almost the reverse: the more time you spend with your novel, the more nuances you can add, the more you can toy around with the sentences, and the more time you have to make it perfect. What world class runner could get away with admiring the rocks in Central Park during the New York City Marathon?

That said, writing is like running because cross training is definitely key. Just as you have to hit the gym every week in track, you have to be prepared to read, research, and revise outside of your writing time. Consider it the literary equivalent of bicep reps. You don’t use your arms to run, but they sure come in handy during the last few yards of a race as you pump your way to a PR.

Anyway, these are just thoughts—mainly for discussion’s sake. I would love to hear from runners, writers, and runner-writers in the comments about what they think. Is running like writing—or not?

Also, for those die-hards, check out The Runner’s Literary Companion still one of my favorites. It even includes an incredible short story from a Hardy Boys ghostwriter that has stuck with me to this day: “John Sobieski Runs.” And one of my favorite authors ever, Toni Cade Bambara has a short piece “Raymond’s Run” which must have been the first short story I ever fell in love with. Definitely worth a read!

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11 responses to “Running to Write

  1. writer-at-heart

    Excellent comparison; training and endurance are important in many disciplines!

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  3. Thanks for the link! I love your cross-training point. Why didn’t I think of that? The cross training involved in writing is one of my favorite parts.

    I agree, too, that quantity is not quality in writing. I used to think that quantity was quality in running, but the more I learn about professional runners, the more I realize that good, focused, goal-oriented training is much more important than pounding out extra miles just to rack up the numbers.

    Luckily the parallels don’t go on forever. On a 100 degree day like today, I’m glad writing involves air conditioning.

  4. “Nor should writing ever be a race.”

    That’s basically what I just blogged about too ( http://kristanhoffman.com/2010/07/02/embracing-my-inner-turtle/ ) because it’s such a hard thing to come to. In this day and age, I think we’re all wired to want to succeed as quickly as possible, to “get rich and famous” as young as we can, and you know what? Sometimes that’s not the best way. Or it’s just not possible for us. And that’s okay. Because sometimes the bright flame burns out quickest, while the steady ember lasts all through the night.

    As for running, lol, um… I used to… but now I don’t. It’s so weather-dependent! (Which is great if you’re in California, not so great if you’re in Texas or Ohio.) I’m thinking about taking up yoga, though, b/c I can do that year-round, and it’s free, and “easy.”

    • Yes, running in nice weather is such a luxury. I remember running back east during freezing rain some winters and the colds that would ensue!

  5. I’ve been running every week now, and I’ll be honest– it’s a great way to think about gags and comedy. It gives you time to think of a joke, and just the various ways it could be expanded upon, as well as to fit it in a story pretty well. The whole ‘health’ benefit thing is just a bonus.

  6. I suck at running. This makes me worried for my writing.

  7. I would be very worried. I mean, as everyone knows, Shakespeare ran marathons in his spare time… 🙂 And don’t even mention to me George Orwell’s ultra-marathoning career…

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