The cliché “writing a book is like running a marathon” has, like all other clichés, that kernel of truth that gets worn out from overuse. But the kernel remains true.
I got to thinking about this because, while I work on draft #4 of Wild Spread, I’m also getting ready for my 19th consecutive year of volunteering with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. There are many parallels between writing the book and my volunteer work—which I do to honor the memory of a friend who was killed in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building—the first being that they’re both important to me. I’ve also completed one half-marathon and two books, so I can speak with at least some knowledge of running and writing.
The other parallels between writing and marathoning include:
- They require persistence. This is the obvious one. Both require continuous, steady exertion and development in order to complete the task. Runners and writers both build endurance and confidence over time, and both must learn a lot along the way, about themselves and what it takes to achieve their goal.
- They take time. Writing a book—at least, writing a good book—takes a year or more for many of us. Training to run a full marathon, or even a half-marathon, can easily take as long. I trained for several years before my half-marathon. My books invariably take years to complete too.
- Runners and writers start with the basics. Virtually everyone who can walk knows how to run. Some, then, think they can run a marathon. (Others think these people are mental. They may be right. See below.) Virtually everyone who can spell (more or less) thinks they can write, and therefore thinks they can write a book.
- There’s SO much more than basics. Just because someone knows how to run doesn’t mean they know how to run long distances, like 13.1 or 26.2 miles. Similarly, just because they can string a few sentences together doesn’t mean they can come up with 15,000 to 20,000 sentences that work together to make a coherent story.
- “Ninety percent of baseball is half mental.” (Yogi
- Distance running and book writing are at least as much mental challenges as they are physical. When you start running, the idea of running five miles, much less more than 25, is intimidating. When you start writing that first book, the idea of writing not just 10 pages, not just 100, but 300 or more is intimidating too.
- Runners “hit the wall.” Writers hit writer’s block. Both suck. And both have to be overcome somehow.
- Going out for a training run on a cold, windy day, or sitting down to write when you’d rather be doing just about anything else also sucks. But the runner or writer have to do them, or something productive, anyway.
All are conquered (or gotten around) mentally as much as physically.
- Taking care of body and mind matters. Eating right, staying hydrated, getting enough rest, and being smart about intake of alcohol or other drugs, all help runners and writers get in top shape and stay there.
- Some equipment required. But not much. Good running shoes, proper clothing for different kinds of weather; that’s about all a runner needs. A writer can make a lot of progress with a pen and a pad of paper, although they’ll need a computer and printer eventually.
- Support. Runners need sports bras or jock straps (usually not both), good shoes, and maybe some other bands or braces, but what they need most is other people to help and encourage them. Writers need that emotional support too, whether it’s from family, friends, an agent, an editor, or a quality writers’ group.
- A place to work. Runners need a (safe) place to run, writers need a place where they can focus on their work. Neither is likely to be perfect; each just needs to be good enough.
- A reward at the end. For a runner, feeling good at the end of a training run is great, crossing the finish line on race day is better, hitting a new personal best time better still. For a writer, holding that proof copy in your hand for the first time, or receiving that contract or first royalty payment makes all the time, struggle, and frustration worthwhile.
Getting from the starting line/“in the beginning” to the finish line/“the end” takes all of these and more. There are many would-be runners and writers who start but never finish, whether that’s training or writing that first draft. Their dreams die in the harsh, cold reality of just how hard each of these tasks is. But some of these dreamers discover strengths and abilities they never knew they had, and joys they never expected to experience. The only way each of us can find out which will be our fate is to try.