At first glance, running and writing don’t seem to go together. Writing involves sitting and thinking, while running involves sweat and suffering. Yet running and writing have a lot in common, and studying one can improve your ability to succeed at the other.
5 Ways Writing a Novel Is Like Running a Marathon
Now you may not be a runner or much of an athlete. I’m not either! I spend much of my time at a desk, staring into a computer screen.
But as I’ve grown into my thirties and struggled with health, I’ve come to embrace the pain and sacrifice of a good run here or there. This has been especially hard to do amidst a full time job, a family, and the dream of writing a novel.
So that’s why I decided to do something I never thought I could do: Run a half marathon.
And along the way, I discovered five insightful similarities between training for a race and writing a novel that will help you improve your writing AND your health!
1. Pain and Sacrifice Are Good
Running a half marathon isn’t like other races. Over the past ten years, I’ve run 5Ks and gone on hikes in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.
But a half marathon isn’t just four 5Ks stacked together. It’s not a long hike. A half marathon is 13.1 miles of pressure and stress on every part of the human body. Most of us simply can’t tolerate the distance unless properly trained and hydrated.
As I’ve trained for this half marathon, I’ve experienced a lot of pain. So to stay committed to my goal of running the race, I had to make sacrifices, like extra training runs and more time stretching. Making sacrifices is exactly what it takes to write a novel!
Do you want to write a novel? Do you know that sacrifice will be required?
Writing a novel isn’t like writing ten stories back-to-back. It’s a completely different animal.
It will be painful. It won’t go how you planned. You will have to make significant sacrifices.
But it’s all worth it in the end!
2. You Can Do More Than You Think
As I’ve trained for this event, I’ve received great advice from marathon veterans. One such veteran is my mom, who warned me: “At ten miles, you will want to quit. But you have to know that you can finish. You have to keep going.”
This advice is so applicable to writing a novel. We have to believe we can finish. We have to seek out the counsel and advice of those who’ve gone before us and trust them when they say that finishing is both possible and worth it.
As I’ve built up to the 13.1 miles of a half marathon, I’ve found my mother’s words to be true. On one training run, ten miles was agony. One week later, eleven nearly killed me.
But I had to believe I could do it.
The same is true for writing a novel. When we reach for the goal and encounter a problem with a difficult character or a dead-end plot thread, we have to believe that we can finish. It will just take some careful thought and renewed dedication.
3. Planning Ahead Makes Hard Things Easier
A month ago, I decided to attempt the full 13.1 miles in a training run. Before starting, I took everything I’d learned and made a long to-do list. First, I ate and drank what I would need to be hydrated along the way. I dressed in the clothes that worked for my body. And I prepared the clothing and meals I would need for afterward.
I can say that the training run was a success, and one of the best runs I’ve ever had, because I prepared. In previous runs I had prepared poorly, relying instead on my will power. “I’ll just gut it out,” I thought, because this had worked on shorter runs.
Writing a novel, too, requires careful preparation. But when we approach it as a purely emotional enterprise, we’re prone to grow frustrated or quit when our will power expires.
“If I try my best — the creative equivalent to ‘gut it out’ — then it should work,” we sometimes think.
But willpower runs out. Plans, however, provide you with the tactical knowledge you need to keep going, regardless of how you feel.
That’s why it’s important to take your creative passion and convert it into plans. Here are some specific plans to make when you write a book:
- Plan your story’s characters and scenes (using Conflict Mapping).
- Plan your stories structure with outlines and word counts.
- Plan based on your future audience, so everything you create is targeted to a specific reader.
Whether you’re running a race or writing a lengthy novel, remember: “Gutting things out” is hard. Planning ahead and executing is easy.
4. Rally Your Team
I’ve already mentioned my mom. But I couldn’t hope for success if it wasn’t for my wife and daughter.
Training for distance races takes lots of time. Running 13.1 takes me about two-and-a-half hours, and that means I’m away from my loved ones (and life’s daily chores!) that entire time. Add time preparing, stretching, showering, and resting in recovery, and you can see: That’s a lot of time!
Yet my wife has been a true teammate. My daughter has been a precious cheerleader. I’ve got an amazing team, and I remember to thank them often.
Writing a novel is just like a distance race, in that it will take you away from work, family, and fun for long stretches of time. You will emerge emotionally exhausted, drained of your ability to participate in daily life.
We all need our team, whether we are engaged in physical or creative races. Remember to communicate clearly and schedule things ahead of time. We can’t just disappear when we decide it’s time to train or write. We have to be team players and support those who support us.
And above all else, be grateful!
5. Desire Success for Success’s sake
I will be running my marathon at a very popular resort destination in Central Florida. There will be tens of thousands of people there who are much faster than me. And while I will (hopefully!) collect a finisher’s medal, it won’t earn me any money, fame, or influencer relationship.
In other words, I’m going to do this because I want to. Nothing more.
For some authors, their creative labor will yield great profit and prestige. Their names and works will gain them the success so many of us long for.
But for most authors, years of sweat and toil result in little of the above. There may be moments of glory and scattered royalty payments. But we can’t all be J. K. Rowling.
So it all begs the question: Why do it?
At some point in your journey, whether it be toward a 13.1 finish line or a publication date, you too must answer the question: Why am I doing this?
Do you write for fame and fortune? Or do you write because it’s what you love and who you are?
Perhaps you write simply because it’s just as healthy for your soul as running races is for the body.
We spend much of our lives believing that everything we do must have some financial reward at the end. And don’t get me wrong — financial rewards are awesome!
But ultimately, our purpose must be in pursuit of something much important than money or fame or medals. It must come from within.
I’m going to run this half marathon because I choose to. Because I want to do something I thought I never could.
The same can be said of why I have chosen to write a novel, and why I will choose to again: Because I want to, and because I once thought I never could.
And ultimately, that’s why you should, too. Because you can, and you want to.
Is success for success’s sake enough for you? If it isn’t, beware: Satisfaction will always be elusive, waiting behind the next “big thing.”
Can't Can You Do?
I drafted this article last week, and then ran my race on Sunday. I’m proud to share that I finished with my best time ever. All my hard work and preparation has paid off in big smiles and sore legs (and a really cool Star Wars medal)!
Now I want to challenge you today.
Ask yourself: what “can’t” I do? What is it that you, or someone else, has told you is impossible?
While I certainly hope it has to do with writing, this can literally be anything.
What have you been told (or have told yourself) is impossible for you? Writing and publishing a novel? Getting in shape? Falling in love? Starting a business? Finishing a degree? Changing careers? Traveling somewhere special? Healing a broken relationship?
No matter why you’ve come to see this thing as impossible, you need to start believing that it is possible. You can do this thing. You can achieve it, if you choose to put in the hard work.
It will be incredibly difficult. It will cost you in pain and sacrifice. It will require planning and teamwork.
And it will be worth it because it will change your story from “can’t” to “can,” from “didn’t” to “did.” And while it may not end in riches or celebrity, never forget that success without reward is often better because it adds value to your soul, not your wallet.
And that is the most important success of all.
What impossible goal would you love to achieve? What would success mean to you? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to write a scene about the big moment when a character is about to achieve the goal they've been working towards. Maybe it's running a marathon, or performing in a play, or auditioning for a talent show, or writing a novel.
What are they thinking as they approach the big event? What have they done (or wish they did) to prepare for this moment? Do they succeed?
When you're done, share your scene in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.