Running has taught me how to be a writer. I know this probably sounds strange. How could a physical activity like running teach me something so cerebral like writing?
First off: I have always written. I was writing poetry and abstract philosophical thoughts about life from as early as I can remember. I still have a journal of some of my random musings and attempts at poetry from grade school.I was probably around twelve or thirteen when I realized that writing alleviated stress. It helped me put my pre-teen and then teenage angst into perspective, and oh, how those teenage years were filled with melodramas worth jotting down. Something about the purging of feelings into the written word, onto the pages, tucked safely into my journal, something about it, made me feel free. So I continued doing it. I didn’t care if I was good at it or not, I just knew I liked it.
This eventually moved into academic writing. If you go into academics, you have to write academically. Numerous professors over the years told me that I was exceptionally creative. I could formulate a good hypothesis back then, create new ideas, and argue my point, backing it up with previous research and theory. I was a good academic explorer, a hunter for some truth that I somehow believed I could find through research.
It was gratifying. Until it wasn’t.
Eventually I grew tired of having to follow formulaic guidelines. If I never have to do another reference that abides by the publication standards of the American Psychological Association, I am fine with that. Good with that, actually.
I started to feel constricted in my writing. So I began writing narrative non-fiction. Now this was like a breeze on a humid summer day: a welcomed respite. Or maybe even like a bird flying: freeing. I could write whatever I wanted. A paragraph didn’t have to be at least three sentences; I could make a well-informed statement without having a list of references to show that what I had to say had any value. I was able to write about my experiences.
I highly recommend narrative non-fiction writing.
Since I’m a wannabe bird - I am always looking to soar higher and be freer - I decided that I wanted to write fiction. A sentence can be one word if it needs to be? Even a paragraph can be just a word if it creates the feeling you want the reader to experience? This is something I think I would love.
So I did. I wrote my first novel! And now I have a draft of a second and the beginning of a third.
Now back to my original statement: running has taught me how to be a writer.
Writing fiction is different than non-fiction. I didn’t have a personal experience or years of reading and consolidating information sitting in my mind. Instead I had to create the whole story using my imagination. Now this was sheer creative freedom, but also nebulous. I am around 150 pages into a manuscript and I don’t even know exactly what’s going to happen. Jeez…
So I thought about everything I know from my years of being-a-runner.
Running has taught me to be in the moment. You will never enjoy running long distance if you keep thinking of how far you have to go. You will know how far you have to go, somewhere in your mind, but your best bet is to be in the mile as it’s unfolding. A marathon is one mile 26.2 times. This is the same with writing: one page, one chapter, and then one more, and one more. Suddenly you have a draft of book.
Running has taught me to push through pain and discomfort. You’ve gotta (I just love that I don’t have to write ‘got to’ if I don’t wanna) master that for running. This is also true for writing.
If you want to write authentically then you have to be open and honest and this includes allowing thoughts and feelings out onto the pages (and perhaps into the world) that will be uncomfortable. You will feel doubt: Can I do this? Do I have a right to write? What will people think when they read this? I feel exposed. These thoughts hinder writing. Just as negative thoughts hinder running.
As a long distance runner, I have endured some outrageous discomforts. My book In the Long Run goes into some of these experiences, if you’re interested. I have these outrageous discomforts that I have endured to thank for finishing my first novel.
I actually used my own book to keep me going. That’s right. A number of times, lost in the middle of the first draft of my novel, I opened In the Long Run and read my own words to keep me going. I kept telling myself that I had to be in the discomfort, that I had to go through it. Push through it, don’t avoid it. It will be worth it.
Running has also taught me the value of perseverance and commitment to something greater. Try running a marathon without training. It isn’t going to work out well. I promise.
The discipline of running, the lifestyle of being-a-runner: someone who is going to get up every morning and run, or do whatever she needs to do, no matter how difficult. This is a practice (being-a-runner) that I have been doing since my early twenties. And it is the same resolve that I apply to my writing. I write every day, even on the days I don’t want to.
And the funny thing is…just like with my running where, the hardest step is the first one out the door, the hardest part with writing is sitting down and booting the computer up. Once I start running or writing…once I ease into it, I lose myself in the activity. I know who I am in it and I want to be there.
So running has taught me how to be a writer. I also 100% believe that the things we learn through endurance exercise teach us how to pursue the things we want from our lives, and to do so in spite of the obstacles and discomforts. Or perhaps because of them.
Jacqueline Simon Gunn
Writer, runner, psychologist
Note: this is my first blog entry. I will be blogging about writing, running, life and whatever else comes to mind. Thank you for reading.