Running · Spirituality · Writing

NaNoWriMo, or How Writing a Book is like Running a Marathon

Running and writing do not always go together, although they should. I have been running for the last sixteen years and I’ve learned many life lessons that have helped me become a better writer. Since NaNoWriMo — National November Writing Month— is an endurance event for writers, I found many similarities between writing 50,000 words in a month and running a marathon, 26.2 miles.

Running, like writing, is something I’ve always liked but never thought I could actually do. I was never an athlete as a child. In fact, I was on the chubby side and always had a pretty low self-image. But I loved being outside and was always riding my bike, playing in the woods or shooting basketball in our driveway. I played tennis and loved to walk, but run? It never crossed my mind that I could do that.

So, when I got to college and found out that I had to pass a physical education requirement of running a mile in order to graduate, I thought it was an impossible assignment. But one afternoon my roommate and I laced up our tennis shoes and went to the track. I still remember the woman coach who told me I had a ‘good stride’. I had never been complimented on any athletic ability and that little encouragement gave me the confidence I needed.

I passed the one-mile requirement and kept going. A beautiful running trail was adjacent to the campus and I found that after a long day of sitting in class, running three miles was relaxing and helped burn calories. (I was fighting the freshman twenty pounds that had found me.)

Throughout my twenties I ran three miles most days or jumped around in a leotard at aerobics class (it was the eighties, after all.) I always ran by myself and never more than three miles. But after having a baby at the ripe old age of twenty-nine, I felt my running days were behind me.

Fifteen years later I was at a low time in my life after the deaths of both my father and mother-in-law. I heard about a 5K race in Calhoun and decided I would try it. One Saturday morning I stepped out the door wearing a pair of blue sweatpants and some old New Balance shoes. I only made it part of the way down my road, but I kept going, a little further each day until I was close to three miles. My son and I both ran the small race that year. Imagine my shock when I got second in my age group! I was hooked.

Soon I was running with a friend while our children were at swim practice. I met some other women and we began to get together three mornings a week before work to run. We began running in local 5K’s and then taking week-end trips to go to races. I ran a 10K (6 miles) then a 10 miler, then a half marathon (13.1 miles) and finally a full marathon. Over the years I completed 5 marathons. These women became my closest friends and we have shared life’s ups and downs ever since. At sixty, I’m still running (although not marathons!) and feel great.

After running the Amelia Island Half Marathon

So how does this story of my running experience relate to NaNoWriMo?

First, NaNoWriMo is about getting a first draft done, no matter how terrible it may be. Just as training for a marathon is about logging miles, we must log our time in front of the computer or yellow legal pad, putting down words that eventually add up to a book. Author Shannon Hale said, I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” We can always edit later, but we have to have something to work with.

NaNoWriMo gives us a plan for getting that first draft written. When preparing for a marathon, my friends and I always had a plan for how many miles we were going to run each week. By promising ourselves to write every day, whether it is 500 words or 1,667 (the amount needed to finish 50,000 words in thirty days), we have a schedule to go by.

Secondly, NaNoWriMo gets us in the habit of writing every day. After years of running three to four days a week, I start feeling very out of sorts if I miss two days in a row. If you commit to four weeks of regular writing, you will find that it feels strange not to sit down and crank something out.

Stephen King, one of the most prolific authors out there, said, “Habit is the bed of creativity, so tuck yourself in.” Writing something at the same time and in the same spot everyday requires discipline and dedication, but habit makes it easier.

Finally, NaNoWriMo gives us friends to help. Running with friends was a game changer for me, in the same way that the support I’ve received from Calhoun Area Writers has made a huge difference in my writing life. The NaNoWriMo webpage is full of information, forums, word counters, and more to keep you going. Join our CAW NaNoWriMo Facebook page to keep up with how our members are doing.  You don’t have to do it alone!

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