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Meghan Ward

I'm a freelance writer and book editor represented by Andy Ross of the Andy Ross Literary Agency. You can read an excerpt of my memoir, Paris On Less Than $10,000 A Day, and visit my website for more info about me.

How writing is like running

I recently finished Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I was anxious to read it because I took up running recently. First, let me backup and give you a history of my running. I first ran in my 20s when I was considering signing up for a self-awareness training called The Mile. I was intimidated to take it knowing that I’d have to run a mile every morning, so I decided to train for it (I never did do the course). I started by running just a couple of blocks and I built up to running two miles. Later, when I was 27, I was inspired by my sister-in-law, who had run five marathons, to train for the LA Marathon. I joined a training group and made it through our 20-mile run before I injured my knee so badly that I couldn’t run five miles. It broke my heart not to run the race, but I figured it wasn’t worth risking knee surgery to satisfy my ego. Since then, I’ve gone through phases when I run two to three miles a couple of times a week for a couple of months, and then I get bored and quit. I was running two miles three times a week when I got pregnant last year and kept that up until my fifth month. After I had my baby, I started to run again, this time with the intent to train for a half marathon—a very difficult, hilly half marathon. Since all I do besides take care of kids is run and write, I was anxious to read Murakami’s memoir.

I liked the memoir, but it offered very little insight about writing. It’s mostly a book of essays about running, the greatest correlation to writing being that you need to be disciplined enough to do it every day, whether you feel like it or not. You need to endure the pain, and you need to be willing to go the long haul.

When I’m running a long distance, like eight or ten miles, I ALWAYS, at some point, have an overwhelming urge to lie down and take a nap. Maybe it’s because I don’t get enough sleep. Maybe it’s because I don’t train enough (I run three days a week), or maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I rarely feel that runner’s high that makes me feel like I could run all day. I mostly feel exhausted. But I keep running. I keep running because I made a commitment to myself to keep running. If I say I’m going to run 10 miles, I run 10 miles. I have never run less than I intended to run. I’ve run slower, and I’ve walked at times, but I’ve always achieved my goal. And that’s good training for writing. Keep at it, no matter how difficult, no matter how much pain, no matter how badly you’d rather like down and take a nap. Just keep going. Because you’ve committed to that. And you keep your commitments. (Or do you? I’m going to write another post about commitments.)

So you tell me, DO you keep your commitments? If yes, what helps you get through the hours when you feel like lying down and taking a nap? If no, why not?

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9 comments to How writing is like running

  • Oy. I keep my writing commitments, but not my running ones, lol. I do want to run again (used to in high school, then stopped for a bit, then started again for a bit in college, then stopped again) but lately I've been so focused on my writing, and on keeping THAT commitment, that I haven't felt like pushing myself too hard in other areas, honestly…

    But a lot of writers talk about how walking or running stimulates their minds, gives them time to process or ideate, etc. And I feel that even when I'm driving home or walking my dog. So I DO want to start running again. I just don't want to do it until I think I really can commit, and keep that commitment.

    Writing first, running next. (Although probably never a half marathon, geez girl! 5Ks are good for me. And on a daily basis, 2 miles is probably my comfortable ceiling.)

    Anyway, how do I keep my writing commitments instead of napping? Well, to be honest, sometimes I do both, lol, like on the weekends. But during the week, when there is no time for delicious naps, I just tough it out. Usually with a glass of sparkling grape juice, which I swear is better than caffeine for me.

    And I remember how many people are cheering for me, waiting to see my big break. And then I realize no big break is just going to come to me — I have to make it.

    (Obviously I just posted a bit about this: http://kristanhoffman.com/2010/03/29/fake-it-till… Fun coincidence. :))

  • Kristan – I think you're making the right decision to put writing before running. I did very little writing these past two months, but now that my race is over, I'm going to focus on writing for the next two months and GET this revision DONE. It's difficult (for me at least) to be committed to several different things. If I'm going to do something several times a week and really do it right, I can't be focused on three other things, too. And I'm heading right over to your blog to read that post now …

  • Anirban

    Hi! Meghan

    I am Ani's brother, I am not there yet , where you are and jog very little about 3 kms mostly and 6 kms sometimes at a very light pace. But I love running and it gives me an incredible high.

    All the best

  • m++

    Meghan, I've been really impressed with your training discipline, and that you got your best time yet on your longest run, the Oakland Half-Marathon. Regarding that "runners' bliss" zone, I've been able to get in that before, but lately I feel creaks in my bones and mental fatigue that compel me to walk all too often. It used to be that I would sprint ahead, hare-like at the start, and you, the tortoise, would steadily pass me, but now all I see is smoking turtle shell right out of the gate! Best of luck publishing your Memoir; your commitment to your writing will prevail all, as has your running.

  • Anirban – Welcome! When are you going to come visit us? I went to the doctor last week because I was having a lot of back pain from carrying the kids around (and the running was aggravating it), and he told me that running is not good for ANYTHING but improving your mood. I didn’t really believe him – he insisted that it doesn’t even help weight loss and I know that’s not true – but it IS true that it gives me a high as well. It’s been just three days since my race, and I’m dying to get out there again (but have to take a break for at least a couple of weeks – doctor’s orders.) Come to California for a run. That will improve your mood even more.

  • Commitment–what a huge topic. But, first, I want to say that your correlation between writing and running is so fitting (and that bit where you want to lie down and take a nap is funny!) I don't run. I won't explain, but it just isn't my thing. I garden, though, and sometimes digging in the dirt is a huge inconvenience when there are so many other things to do. But, if I want to eat yummy vegetables this summer, I have to do it.

    I quit so many things…or rather than say I quit, I grow bored and abandon so many things. quit piano at age ten, guitar at age 22, used to study photography and haven't taken a good picture since the dawn of the digital age. But, writing. I don't know why, but I've never quit. That's got to be a good thing, right? (well, it encourages me even when I feel like taking a nap).

    I write every day, but I have not set a word amount for myself because then I get too focused on the word count instead of the words. But, it is satisfying to see the little counter go up and up!

    One of my favorite short stories is about running. It's beautiful. "Fires" by Rick Bass. In my head, I am training for marathons. :)

  • Sarah – I love that! "In my head, I am training for marathons." So poetic. Funny, I also quit piano around age 10 and used to take photography classes in the analog age. And I've run on and off. Same for swimming. And yoga. I get bored doing the same type of exercise for very long, so I have to switch it up. But writing, yes, like you, I've kept that up. I guess that means we're in it for the long haul. I guess that makes us writers.

  • I definately think a flexible, well-laid plan for success will get you where you want to go.

    Congrats on keeping up with the running, that's quite an accomplishment!

    Christi

  • Anirban

    Thanks for a nice response, all the best

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