Seven Steps to Write Like a Runner


By Kristin Johnson

Writing is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.

I would argue that for most people, running is also hard. I was a fair-weather runner just one year ago when I decided to pursue my New York City Marathon qualification. My first small distance race was rough – I could barely run two miles much less 26.2. But race-by-race, I gradually ran further, stronger and faster. I’m now registered, preparing for November and realizing that marathon training presents lessons in endurance beyond pavement, treadmills and trails.

As someone who provides counsel on the written and spoken word every day, I appreciate how the exercise of running has translated into my writing. Over many miles of quiet road, alone with my thoughts, seven key themes for writing have emerged to make reaching the proverbial finish line a little bit easier:

1. Know your race
There are marathons and then there are sprints. Just as you would never train for a marathon with nothing more than short, fast runs, don’t approach all writing assignments the same. There are writing “marathons,” where you need to pace yourself and ensure you’re meeting your goals along the course so that you reach the end. And then there are writing “sprints,” those down and dirty deadlines that force you to propel forward with unsustainable speed, knowing the end is in sight. Know your race and train appropriate.

2. Training pays off
Signing up and running in your first race can be terrifying and exhilarating all at once. You’re putting yourself out there, vulnerable to competition and – if it’s a timed race – critique. That’s often how it feels to write, as well. Writing your first novel or article can be scary, but don’t let fear stop you. To quote William Zinsser, “the art of writing is rewriting” and the more you do it – or train – the easier it will become. (Note: I stress easier…not easy!)

3. Envision your course
Where are you going? How long are you allowing yourself to get there? What are the hurdles and terrain that you anticipate and more important, how are you going to prepare? With writing, just as with races, you want to know your course so that slippery story lines or mountains of research don’t become unmanageable. By ensuring the proper research and background is in place before you set off on your course, you will be more prepared with your roadmap for success.

4. Fuel up & gear up
If you run, you know you have to fuel your body with the right food and hydration. Sleep, the proper shoes and clothing also play into setting the stage for a healthy, more comfortable run. Likewise, set the right conditions for writing. Clear your desk of distractions, or perhaps go to a place where you can feed off of creative energy. Do you need coffee or candy nearby? Do you write best with your teddy bear PJ bottoms? Fine. Do what it takes to put yourself in the right zone to focus on your writing. And then, write.

5. This is fun
People tell me that running is supposed to be fun. I am still waiting for that. But what I do enjoy is that incredible exhilaration after a run, knowing that I conquered something that challenged me. Writing is this type of fun, too. You have something to say and the world is waiting to hear from you! If you find yourself knocking your head on the table in despair or exhaustion, just remind yourself how awesome you’ll feel after you’ve pushed through to the finish line.

6. Form matters
It’s important to note that while crossing the finish line is always important, you want to arrive there one solid step at a time. Form is as important in writing as it is in running. If you’re not coming in with a smooth and consistent stride, you are jeopardizing your final product. Cracks in shins and cracks in a story both sound painful to me.

7. The last mile is mental
To run, write or attempt anything else for that matter, Henry Ford said it best:

“Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Writing and running can both be daunting endeavors but – with training and commitment – you can cross whatever finish line you set for yourself.

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