heavy-handed metaphors · running · saving my sanity · writing

Writing and running

So, I’m prepping this graduate professionalization course you may have heard me talk about on Twitter. As a result I’m reading a looooooooot of books on writing–academic writing, dissertation writing, creative non-fiction writing. Here’s something I’ve noticed:

A lot of disciplined writers are also runners.

Joan Bolker keeps reverting to running metaphors in Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. In the Chronicle, writing columnist Rachel Toor refers fairly frequently to her own running habit–she does half-marathons, apparently. (William Zinsser doesn’t run, so far as I can tell, probably because he’s too busy wagging his fingers at people [mostly male people], but that’s neither here nor there.) Anne Lamott doesn’t run, but Bird by Bird reminds Melissa of running.

I’ve got more, that didn’t arrive in time for the photo shoot.

I’ve started to run. The writing books inspired me, actually. And since I’m doing so much writing this summer (reading books on how to be a productive academic can produce productivity this way) I need some outlets for when I unpeel my butt from my deck chair. Obviously, I began my running career by reading about running. It’s striking how similar the writing advice and the running advice is, to wit:

  • Make a schedule and stick to it
  • Be consistent
  • Shorter efforts, more frequently, achieve better results
  • Capacity builds over time; start slow and it will speed up!
  • It’s important to build in time for rest and recovery
  • The hardest part is getting out the door / opening the document
  • “Motivation” is never going to be enough
  • The good feeling you get from dragging your ass/pen through it when you don’t want to today will give you momentum for tomorrow
  • When you hit your stride, there’s nothing better than staying in that flow

Writing and running are mutually reinforcing each other for me right now. When I just want to surf Dog Shaming rather than write, I think to myself, “Well, you dragged your ass out of bed at 6am to run, and that turned out really great, so bring that same commitment to the writing!” And then, at 6am, when I’m all snuggy and listening to my whole household happily snoring, I think, “Dammit, you sat in a chair for two hours trying to create a BOOK out of NOTHING yesterday, so you can probably manage to thump your feet down sequentially on a pretty path and listen to the birds chirp for half an hour and not DIE.” (There’s a lot all-capsy thinking when I’m feeling sorry for myself, as you do when the alarms goes off in the morning.)

The academy is full of funny coincidences. A lot of English professors are in therapy / have weirdo hair. A lot of women in Digital Humanities like to knit. A lot of productive writers are runners. Huh. Something to think about.

7 thoughts on “Writing and running

  1. thanks – put that list on a digital sticky-note on my desktop! (my running days are over, but my writing days, well, are endless)


  2. I think I wrote a post on just this back in the day–Lamott's Bird by Bird as Pomodoros as running intervals. You're so right. Half-marathon as book and vice versa is a useful metaphor too–a big scary thing that can totally be accomplished if you just keep chipping away.

    As I sit in the archives, getting antsy about sitting for too long in a chair that isn't mine, I'm dying to go thump my feet down for awhile. I also find that a lot of English professors love chocolate and wine. Can't beat running for creating more space for those in a balanced diet…

    One last: does your second batch include Professors as Writers? Useful. Hope the prep is going well–can't wait to hear how the course turns out. Glad you're taking it on.


  3. Sending out a resounding HEAR HEAR. When I head out the door for a run, I often intentionally think about my writing. Doing a lot of sitting doesn't necessarily lend itself to deep breathing, so with deep breathes and a steady running rhythm, I find it helps to “unstick” ideas that are cowering in the back corner.
    If I cannot brainstorm an outline of sorts, I often am able to have that essential writing launch pad for when I return to the keyboard.

    Also, grad professionalism course = best idea.


  4. I've just started running and am finding that it does help my motivation for writing and other things. Although I've found that running in the afternoon works better for me because if I run in the morning I feel too pleased with my accomplishments for the rest of the day and tend to just lounge.

    Have you thought about using Helping Doctoral Students Write? It's geared for supervisors, but I read it and am a PhD and found it infinitely useful! I find a lot of the other books are very practical (A+B = great sentence!) which is useful, but this book, I find, is very reflective on the climate of the academy, the epistemological commitments we bring to writing, and really thinking critically about writing and how it fits into the academy.


    This class sounds amazing!


  5. Great post, Aimee! I am a runner too, though not as consistent as I would like to be. My writing seems to mimic my running: in spurts of panic as I see the deadline looming and/or when I step on the scale.
    Motivation is the key part for me in that list. I learned a while back that I can't wait for inspiration to strike, nor for the perfect room/temperature/ambiance/time of the day to work. It's definitely about getting my butt on that chair and/or my body out that door. No excuses. I also wrote a post on the bird by bird thing, though quite a while back. It's great to see how we all think and work alike, and support each other.


Comments are closed.