The other day over a Zoom meeting, my friends and I were talking about running. We had a fifteen-minute conversation about what people think about when they run – Vasco got bored, Cass listens to a podcast or creates stories in her head and Nicoline checks her pace. As someone who nearly failed physical education in high school, this conversation was only happening because it’s corona time and there’s nothing else to talk about. Having said this, the quota for mentioning corona has been filled, so now let’s talk about running…
Running is hard for me, but it makes me feel empowered and a good steward of my mental health. One of my goals this year is to run 5K with the help of an app called “C25K”. A few months ago, I thought that a nice way to get me motivated to achieve this goal was to read a book called What I talk about when I talk about running, written by Haruki Murakami. It’s a book about his journey as a marathonist, how he started this practice when he decided to become a writer and writes about how they’ve become so intertwined that he can’t see himself writing without running.
He explains that writing is in itself an unhealthy activity – you’ve to sit for long hours in your desk, within your own head. At the same time, even though writing is a mental labor, “finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor”, he says, as it requires energy and endurance. Running helps him have that.
“To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible. An unhealthy soul requires a healthy body”.
I wrote this quote in my journal and ended up thinking about the book and how funny it was when he compared running to writing. I’d have parked this idea at that moment, but a few weeks later, I started reading Stephen King’s book On Writing, in which he says:
“As with physical exercise, it would be best to set this goal low at first, to avoid discouragement. I suggest a thousand words a day, and because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with. (…) With that goal set, resolve to yourself that the door stays closed until that goal is met”.
There it was again, exercising and writing in the same sentence – what was the deal with this?
What’s up with running and writing?
I had heard before that content creation is a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to get stronger. As running also demands, consistency is thus needed – “read a lot, write a lot,” King advises. I’ve also heard a few times that if you don’t feel like writing, sit down and honour that time, even if you just stare at a wall for the next hour. Just show up, which is also a good piece of advice for someone who wants to start running (that’s why my 9th time running was actually a walk – it was too windy, okay?).
It wasn’t hard to admit to myself that I suck at this running thing. I’d have to get comfortable with the fact that I couldn’t run around the lake (more or less 800m) and be patient with my goal. We can apply this when writing too – get comfortable with the fact that you’ll suck at the beginning, as the authors cited above both agree on.
If a warm-up is advised before starting running, the same can be used for writing, and you can draw inspiration from other areas for this. For example, illustrator Mattia Chus starts by sketching for half an hour and writer Huma Qureshi suggests using a prompt like “There’s something I need to tell you,” when you’re out of ideas.
This shows that the myth of the suffering artist has come to an end. Murakami jokes that no one can write with a toothache, as “pain blocks concentration,” He writes: “the healthy and unhealthy are not necessarily at opposite ends of the spectrum, but rather complement each other”.
In the same logic, creative people talk about the benefits of having a routine and stick to their goals. Murakami summarizes this too: “writers who aren’t blessed with much talent – those who barely make the grade – need to build up their strength at their own expense (…) they have to supplement what’s missing from their store of talent trough whatever means they can”.
Slowly, the things that Murakami described in his book became tools that I used on my weekend runs and when I sat in my desk to write. What I was using as motivators to keep writing were now motivators to put my running gear on, and vice-versa.
Write fast, fast, fast
In Big Magic, a book about creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her strategy to cope with fear by picturing a car with three passengers: fear, creativity and her. She writes:
“Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you [fear] are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”
There’s always this annoying inner critic that jeopardizes your excitement. Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way, calls it “the censor,”. You can also give it a name, like a friend of mine who calls this voice Dominique (“Dominique, shut up!”).
The same happens to me while running – a little voice that’s always too tired to keep going. When this happens, I remember Murakami´s mantra when he’s running the last kilometers of a marathon and his mind is nothing but stillness: “I’m me and at the same time not me,”. Moving the attention from my mind to what my body is accomplishing seems to help. It’s also about turning the whole run into something bigger than “me” – it’s about taking care of my mental health.
Last week, I read this advice in the newsletter WriterIand that suggested readers to trick their inner critic by writing very fast, with a very tight deadline, so that it can’t catch you on time. They propose only half an hour of writing.
This suggestion of setting deadlines was also a take-away from an elective, I had this semester on managing creative businesses. I learned that without deadlines, creative work can be paralyzing, as we get stuck in our own heads and never reach an end. In the same way, I gave myself a deadline with my running practice by signing up for an official 5K run (which was then cancelled because of “you-know-what”).
And if you get stuck, Gilbert recommends us to look for inspiration outside writing, like drawing classes or even running. She calls it “combinatory play”, which is “the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another” .
Something I’m yet to try (as I’ve seen this piece of advice being mentioned twice)
Something that I’m yet to try is “to stop writing at the point where I feel I can write more”, a suggestion made by Hemingway and followed by Murakami. He says: “Do that. And the next day’s work goes surprisingly good”. In a funny coincidence, the week after I read this, Madeleine Dore made a connection with this and her own running practice. She says in this podcast episode that a friend taught her to stop running when is getting good because “that means you won’t resent the next run; you didn’t push yourself to dreading it next time. The key to start is to stop at the right point”.
- Writing can turn you into a couch potato, but you need energy if you want to do good writing – running can help you with that.
- Writing is like physical exercise: set a low goal, take one day off and be consistent.
- Read a lot, write a lot.
- Show up, even if you turn your run into a walk or stare at a wall for one hour instead of writing.
- Get comfortable with sucking at the beginning – you are a beginner.
- Warm-up before starting writing – questions like “I have something to tell you” might help you with that.
- There’s always an inner critic that shows up – tell it to shut up or write very fast so it can’t catch you on time.
- Something that helps me keep running when I want to give up is to tell myself “I’m me and at the same time not me,”
- Give yourself a deadline, as freedom can be paralyzing, and stick to routines (no suffering artist here).
- If you get stuck with your writing, go do something else like drawing or running.
- Something that I’m yet to try is “to stop writing at the point where I feel I can write more”, as recommended by Hemingway.
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Accountability sessions can help you figure out what the next step is by talking with others about your goals for the week or life-long projects and by delving into the blocks that prevent you from doing the work.
Who is this for? —
+ SOMEONE WITH A CREATIVE PROJECT THAT WANTS TO CONNECT WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE – OR SOMEONE THAT WANTS TO START PURSUING A MORE CREATIVE WAY OF LIVING.
+ SOMEONE THAT NEEDS TO GET THINGS DONE (EITHER A PAPER FOR SCHOOL, THAT LIFE-LONG SUPER CREATIVE PROJECT OR JUST GETTING STARTED ON A HABIT)
+ SOMEONE THAT NEEDS HELP FIGURING OUT THE NEXT STEP IN THEIR LIVES AND COULD USE SOME EXTRA HELP
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