What Running a 5K Taught Me About Writing

In college I was a runner. Not a long distance runner or track star or anything fancy like that, but after my last class on most afternoons I slapped on my running shoes and a pair of shorts and hit the pavement for an hour before dinner. Running was a much needed release and a chance to clear my head of boys and classes and college drama and focus on me.

Man, and I thought the world revolved at mega speed back then. Things I wish I knew before becoming and adult- enjoy the hell out of college because life comes at you fast in the real world.

Since no one has successfully built a time machine to take me back to dorm room sleepovers and fraternity parties I recently picked up my love (or hatred some days) of running again and it struck me in the middle of my first three mile run this weekend that running a 5K is just like writing a book.

1. The Beginning is Always Hard. Keep Going– When my feet first hit the pavement and I mentally map out which three mile route to take, the world is opened to me and I can accomplish anything. Then, a minute in, my legs start complaining. My feet rub in my shoes. Pandora switches from an upbeat song to a slow commercial (Yeah, I’m too cheap to buy a subscription) and that opened-to-all-possibilities feeling turns into holy-crap-with-a-big-ass-cherry-on-top I can’t take twenty-nine more minutes of this torcher. I want to quit.

Starting a new project is like those first few steps on the pavement. You open word, or Scrivener, or WriteWay Pro, pin a few inspiration pics from Pintrest or Tumbler, read over your character sketches, turn Pandora to your new book soundtrack and the writing gods shine down on your newest best seller like the idea is so grand the book could practically write itself. Your fingers fly, the birds outside your office window chirp, the world is full of plot unicorns and rainbows until you hit the first sticky plot point and your best seller plummets from best-book-ever status to bottom-of-sock-drawer disaster faster than Justin Bieber’s career.

Why?

Because beginnings are hard. They  are the universe’s way of weeding out the half-hearted from the truly determined. Keep going. It gets harder– much, much harder–but the finished product is worth the pain.

2. The Uphill Climb Only Makes You Stronger- About three weeks into my quest to run a 5k I had built my endurance up to a mile and was super happy about the progress until I pushed for the two mile mark and failed. No matter how hard I tried or how much determination I brought to the road, I couldn’t press past that one mile point. That’s when The Officer took me for a run on a new path and mostly uphill.  Crap, did my legs burn and the line of expletives I mouthed at his back was quite impressive, but damn if I didn’t crest that one mile mark two days later. Running on flat ground is great, but it’s the climb that builds the muscle that helps you reach your goals.

And so it is with writing. Writing on the weekends is great. Writing 1k a day is fantastic. Writing during your free time waiting for the doctor or on your lunch break is admirable, but those who succeed, who crest the hill from unpublished to proficient author, do it by building their writing muscle. They set goals and push past them. They charge into the difficult writing and power through. They write and write and write and when the path gets trichinous, they get tougher because they’ve built the muscle to back them up.

There is nothing easy about writing. It’s hard, often emotionally draining work, but those who keep going and push past the up-hill battle reap the rewards waiting at the end of the road.

3.When You’re Ready to Give Up–Don’t. The “Zone” is Dead Ahead– To prepare for my first 5k run, I laced on my favorite new running shoes, filled my water bottle, and loaded Muse on my phone. (Something about the anger in his voice keeps me going. Works every time). I had this run. I’d gone two miles twice and one more wasn’t going to kill me. Or at least I thought until I gassed-out at the 2.5 mile marker. I’d heard lore about “the zone” before, and I’d hit it more than once in college, but at that moment nothing, not even a hot man chest, was going to get me from mile marker 2.5 to mile marker 3. Then it happened. The zone. “Madness” pumped through my headphone, the pain in my legs and chest eased. My back straightened and within seconds I went from fleeting flower to determined Debbie, my feet eating the pavement and a cool sweat on my brow. That was the fastest and most satisfying half-mile I’ve run, ever.

There is a zone in writing too but it only comes after you’ve punched that snarky internal editor in her smack-talking mouth and come to terms with the fact that no one publishes their first draft (and if they do I don’t want to read it) . Confident in your ability to tell their story, your characters start talking faster than you can type. The false bravado you started your draft with develops into a hard-won confidence that pushes you all the way to THE END. Once your fingers start flying and you let the words do the work the zone will hit and you’ll do the best writing of your life.

When the words are the hardest to write, that’s where you’ll find your inner genius.  No matter the pain, ignore the negative self-talk and never give up. Success is right around the preverbal corner.

4. Every Victory is Better With Friends– I started my quest to run a 5k eight years ago. Anyone see an issue with that? I hope so. Eight years to run three miles should sound absurd, and it is. I started and stopped more times than I care to admit, and let the inner demons that I wasn’t good enough get to me every time. What made this attempt different? I had support in the way of a fantastic group of romance writers all on the same mission to become or stay fit. I knew I had to check in with them daily and I wasn’t about to post…”yeah, well I just felt like staying fat and unhappy today so I sat on the couch and ate hot Cheetos til my fingers turned orange.” Friends make everything better, even running.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more, writing is a solitary sport and considering most of us are introverts–we aren’t known for our social abilities, but you must, must, must have friends in this game to survive. Cyber friends from online RWA chapters or writing websites or yahoo groups (are those still a thing?) are fantastic. And if you’re lucky, some of your writing beasties live close enough for meet-ups and celebrations. Set up a support system. Plan to meet (in person or cyberly (there I go again making up words and writing parentheses inside parenthesis because I’m cool like that)) with other writers to discuss successes and failures and plans for the future. You won’t believe the difference that support makes in your writing and your life.

5. There is a Huge Reward at the End of the Road and it isn’t Publication or a Medal- This goes without saying. If you’re writing for money or fame, jump ship now. Right now! Before you finish reading this blog, because 1% of the top 1% of authors make the million dollar club. Yeah, I made those numbers up, but I bet they’re pretty damn near accurate. I didn’t start running to collect marathon medals and I didn’t start writing to capture top billing at the RWA literary singings. Sure, both would be welcomed and coveted, but I have no control over either. (RWA-my contact info in is the bio. *wink*)

What I do have control over is giving it my all and producing the best damn book possible, marketing the best way I know how (have you seen #manchest on twitter?), and writing the next book and the next, and the next. If one person reads and loves the story, I’ve won. I’m not going to pass up a contract or an advance or a royalty check, but I’m not going to give up just because I don’t have those things…yet. There’s much more too it all. I’ve been writing for seven years and I’ve earned far more than I’ve given. It’s worth the fight.

And because I’ve said a lot I think we all need a little Man Chest to push us over the Wednesday Hump. Hum…maybe a Man Chest Monday-Runner Edition is in order.

Happy writing and climb that damn mountain, Y’all!  Make it your bitch and make it the best you can! You know you have it in you to shine. Now, go blind the world.

 

*You know he gets one hell of a chub-rub rash running in those briefs, right?

Reagan

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