Note: This post originally appeared on MacTeenBooks.com
There’s something to be said for doing something badly. Like writing with your left hand when you’re right-handed. Your script might not be pretty, but the exercise is good for your mind. Of course I have no evidence to back this up (Science is one of the things I like, but I’m not very good at.) It’s just a feeling. But I also know I’m not the first person to feel this way.
It’s the “What have I got to lose?” mentality. There’s no pressure. When we lack skills in a certain area, we don’t set unrealistic goals for ourselves and it’s easier, even necessary, to remain in the moment. You can almost hear the click as doors to unexplored regions of your brain unlock. I have a short list of things I love yet do badly. My go-to activities when I need a break from writing. Singing, drawing, playing guitar. (Okay, so it’s a huge stretch to call what I do “playing” guitar, but you get the idea.)
But of all the things I’m not-so-very-good at, running has become the most important to me, even though I’m far from being a natural. (Think Corgi attempting to run a thoroughbred horse race.) I have an app on my iPhone that tells me how far and fast I’m running. It also offers words of encouragement from top professional athletes. Things like “Nice work! That was your personal best!” Me? I keep expecting to hear Betty White in my ear buds saying something like “Are you kidding me? Are you even moving?”
Still, I hit the pavement at least three times a every week—undeterred by Betty White’s imagined taunts—because I believe of all the things I do badly, running has taught me the most about writing. Here’s why:
** Running, like writing, is something I need to do consistently. The longer I go between runs, the harder it is to get back into it. Some running is better than no running. Same with writing.
** Running is better than free writing for me. I started running regularly at about the same time I began writing my young adult novel FAMOUS LAST WORDS. So much of the plot and dialogue came to me as I logged miles on the treadmill and around the neighborhood. There’s something about concentrating on every breath and every step that puts my head in that space where uncensored ideas start flowing.
** As much as I enjoy it. Some days, I just don’t feel like running. On those days, I need to trick myself. “Just run one mile today.” I say. I fall for it every time. It gets me out there and before I know it, I’m lost in my running mix, feeling good, and ready to keep going. Same with writing. I dangle the carrot out there. “Just three new pages and then you can sign on to Twitter” or “Two hundred and fifty words and you can break for coffee.” Whatever it takes to get my butt in the chair. Just like with running, I always wind up going farther.
** When I was considering running a 10K race, I asked a good friend of mine, a marathon runner, how to go about training. Working backwards from race day, she put me on a schedule whereby I’d start out running half the distance (5K) and add one mile each week. Again, it’s an easy and obvious formula that works with writing too. I give myself a deadline and each week I push myself to write more than I did the week before.
So I never did run that 10K race. Turns out 5K races are more suited to my abilities. But every once in a while, when I’m out for longer run and the endorphins kick in, and my knees aren’t hurting, and Betty White isn’t screaming in my ears, I start to believe I can run a 10K, or a half marathon, or even a full marathon. Then reality hits and I realize the mere thought of running those distances makes writing that next novel seem a whole lot easier. At the very least, I’ll be sitting.