Why running is a lot like writing

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I wasn’t athletic as a kid. Primarily because I broke my tibia when I was seven. Snapped the thing clean in half, wore a cast from the tip of my toes to the top of my thigh, and spent nearly all of second grade in a wheelchair or on crutches.

Healing took forever and left me with a big old bump on the back of my foot. It was conveniently located close to my growth plate, so I had to wait until I was in high school to get my achilles tendon surgically detached, have two inches of bone broken off, and get the tendon bolted back on. (Commence another three months on crutches.)

Needless to say, it made playing sports impossible – or at least very unlikely. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, because while other kids were learning soccer, I was learning my love for writing. I’d spend hours writing my “chapter books” – stories of elaborate adventures with my friends where we always wound up saving the neighborhood from destruction.

Given my injury, no one really expected that I’d ever be athletic or even all that active. And for the most part, I wasn’t. At least not until college, when one day I woke up and decided I was going to start running. At first, I began for a logical reason: I had been losing weight and I could burn more calories in less time running than I could on the elliptical.

Soon enough, I discovered that running not only accelerated my weight loss – but I actually enjoyed it. That said, I wasn’t particularly good. I was slow. My pacing was terrible. I considered one mile a pretty decent distance.

But I really liked running and I wanted to get better. The best way to do that? Keep running.

So I did. And along the way, I realized it has a lot of parallels to writing.

  • Like running, the only way to get better at writing is to write. A lot. Sure, you can read some books on how to pen excellent prose or create really fantastic content. And you can talk to other writers about their tried and true tactics. But at the end of the day, the only way to improve your craft is to keep practicing.
  • And just like running, there are days where writing is the absolute last thing you’ll want to do. There are times where writing feels like the hardest task ever and you really struggle to get through whatever it is you’re working on. But – like running – you keep with it. You push through the hard parts because you’ve got your eye on that finish line. (Or that final draft.)
  • You never regret the time you spend writing. Even if what you’re writing feels kind of a lot like garbage when it’s done, you never say, “Wow, I really wish I didn’t sit down and write today.” Kind of like how you never regret a run – even those miserable ones where you end up walking half the route.
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3 (mediocre) tips to overcome writer’s block

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Back in February, I committed to making my blog a priority. I publicly announced that I’d set the bar low – just two posts a month! But, being the overachiever I am, I mentally told myself this really meant every Thursday. Things were going well. I posted four weeks in a row (hurrah!).

Then, THE WORST THING EVER happened. I got writer’s block. And, being that I write professionally and for my own personal entertainment, it was bad.

Writer’s block is an insufferable ailment. Symptoms include staring at your screen, writing paragraphs, deleting said paragraphs. More writing, more deleting. Metaphorically pulling teeth while struggling to string two words together into a coherent sentence.

But let’s be clear here. Writer’s block isn’t the same as procrastination. Procrastination is when you can’t get yourself to sit down and open the damn laptop in the first place. Writer’s block is when you know what you’re going to write about, but – despite your best attempts – can’t get the words out of your brain and onto the paper (er, Google Doc).

Thing is, writer’s block is kind of par for the course. I don’t care how adept or experienced you are. If you’re a writer, there will inevitably come a day/week/month (God help us) where writing is the last thing your brain wants to do.

When that happens, you’d better have a couple cards hanging out in your back pocket to pull when things get desperate. Here are mine (fair warning: they’re not ground breaking).

1. Apply pressure

I think it’s safe to say that most writers work best under pressure. It comes with the same territory that brings us over-caffeinated editors breathing down our necks because it’s now 3:30 p.m. and you were due to post copy at 3 and where the hell’s the article!?

That’s why deadlines are key. Deadlines help keep you accountable. They help drive creativity, too – at least in my case. When I know I’ve got an hour to finish a piece, the adrenaline kicks in, flips the creativity switch on, and the good ideas start flowing.

But if, like me, you’re the over-caffeinated editor setting the deadlines in this scenario, then suddenly that 3 p.m. cut-off looks a little more like 3:30 p.m., which looks a lot more like after dinner/in the morning/next week. Long story short, give yourself too much leeway and you’ll never get anything accomplished.

To counteract this, I give myself mental deadlines. Usually, that means blocking off a chunk of time in my calendar to write. It’s often in between other meetings, so that when time’s up, it’s really up. If all else fails, I pull in a third-party and tell them I’m sending a draft by X o’clock. Their day may not hinge on reviewing my draft, but it’s enough motivation for me to make sure I send copy by the time I said I would.

2. Take a hike

Just kidding. I don’t hike (sorry, Dad). What I really mean is get out of your own head.

Let’s say I’m slogging through a piece. It’s really tough, I’m not happy with any of it, and I’m ready to throw in the towel. When this happens, I get up and do something else: take the dog on a walk, put a load of laundry in, go chat with a coworker. That’s not a novel idea, I know.

But when I get up and walk away from my work, I make sure I’ve got a notebook or my phone with me. That way, when the brilliant idea finally DOES come around, I can jot it down.

Usually, the ideas I’m desperately wracking my brain for come at really inopportune times: as I’m driving down the Mass Pike, for example. When that inevitably happens, I use my phone’s voice commands to send myself an email with whatever genius headline pops into my head.

3. Cut yourself some slack (& I don’t mean lower your standards)

OK, this one isn’t specifically about writer’s block. But sometimes I’m what’s holding me back from just calling a piece done – and I suspect that’s true for a lot of people.

I briefly worked with one woman who was so painstaking in her work that nothing. ever. got. done. This person was literally PARALYZED by her quest for perfection. Job roles stayed open for ages. Website relaunches went overdue by weeks.

Even blog posts stayed in eternal draft form because nothing was ever good enough for this lady’s impossibly high standards/insecurities. It eventually got so bad that she was let go. That’s when I set the 90 percent rule for myself.

If something I’m working on is 90 percent there, it’s good enough – and good enough isn’t bad.

Chances are, if you’re still trying to improve beyond the 90 percent mark, you’re just nitpicking at things no one else will notice or care about anyway. There’s always room for edits and improvement – there just isn’t always time for them, and that’s OK.

Like the infamous sign at Facebook says, “Done is better than perfect.”

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