Jo Knowles: Some things I’ve learned about running and writing
I feel like I am constantly telling people that my struggles and triumphs with running (I use the word “running” but really, it’s an embarrassingly slow jog) mirror my struggles and triumphs with writing. But as I inch ever closer to reaching my running goals of
a) running all the way up a certain hellish hill on my route and
b) running 5 miles on my birthday
and reaching my writing goals of
a) finishing this messy first draft and
b) figuring out what the heck I’m trying to do with it by my birthday
the parallels seem to be uncannily close. Is uncannily a word?
Anyway, I thought I’d share some observations. I know they are painfully obvious in most ways, but I think a few might be a good reminder to anyone who might be struggling with a physical or writing-related goal. So, here they are.
1. It’s OK to be slow.
On running: I am a very slow runner.
On writing: I am a very slow writer.
What I’ve learned: As long as I finish, it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned to accept my pace and stop comparing myself to everyone else. If I try to keep up with someone when I run, I get out of breath and feel like a failure, even if it’s not true. If I try to write more than 1,000 words a day, I get sloppy, and feel like I’m writing just to fill the page, instead of finding meaning in my work. Instead, I’ve learned to embrace my own process and be be happy about my progress, no matter how slow.
Embrace your inner tortoise!
2. YOU have to do the work.
On running: No one can run for me.
On writing: No one else can write my book.
What I’ve learned: Cute running pants or fancy software programs are fun and shiny, but they aren’t going to make you run or write any faster, farther, or better.
Just do the work!
3. Making yourself accountable, well, does.
On running: Making myself accountable by sharing my goals publicly helps me get on the road 3x/week.
On writing: Sharing my word-count goals helps me put my butt in the chair and get the work done.
What I’ve learned: When I make Facebook or Twitter updates stating my running or writing goals, I feel more obligated to meet them because I want others trying to do similar things to succeed, too. I want them to say, “If Jo can do it, so can I! Not, “Well, Jo didn’t do it, so I’m not going to either.”
4. Some days, it’s really hard, but that’s not an excuse to not do the work.
On running: A lot of times I just don’t feel like going out there because I know how hard it’s going to be. I’m afraid of failure.
On writing: A lot of times I just don’t feel like facing my file because I know how hard it’s going to be. I’m afraid of failure.
What I’ve learned: But there has never been a time when I’ve regretted running or writing, unlike the real regret I feel when I don’t. There is no failure in doing the work. It’s all part of the process.
Face your fear!
5. Little bits add up to a lot!
On running: When I first started out, running for 1 minute was hard. Seriously. But I followed the Couch to 5K program, and every week I did a little bit more. Now I run for 45-50 minutes!
On writing: When I start a new novel, I feel both excited and overwhelmed. But by writing 1,000 words per day, I’ve been able to get a first draft done faster than I ever have.
What I’ve learned: We are capable of truly remarkable things when we commit to them. Even small steps will eventually get you where you need to go.
Take those steps!
6. A support network makes all the difference.
On running: When I announced I was doing the Couch to 5K program last fall, several of my friends joined in. We formed a group and checked in several times a week to share our progress, and ask each other questions about how to deal with various aches, pains and challenges. Without them, I am sure I wouldn’t have stuck with it.
On writing: Every day before I start writing, I check in with my writing partners and we share our goals for the day. We cheer each other on, and comfort each other through the rough patches. Without them, I am sure I wouldn’t have stuck with it.
What I’ve learned: I love my friends. I need my friends.
Be a good friend!
7. It feels soooooooo good to finish!
On running: Sometimes it’s all I can do do put on my sneakers and go outside. When I start running, my legs feel like they are made of lead. I feel like there is no way I will reach my goal. But then my breathing evens out and my legs warm up and I’m doing it! When I reach my driveway at the end, I feel shocked and thrilled. This is the first time in 25 years that I have gotten regular exercise. If someone told me last year I’d be running 3.5-4 miles, I would have laughed and secretly thought they were crazy.
On writing: Sometimes it’s all I can do to open my file. When I start writing, every word feels forced and stupid. I feel like there is no way I will ever finish the book. But then I get through the mire and find the heart of what I was looking for, and I’m doing it! When I finish a chapter, I feel shocked and thrilled. When I finish a draft, I feel like I am walking on air. If someone told me when I first started writing that I would sell six books, I would have laughed and secretly thought they were crazy.
What I’ve learned: Instead of laughing when someone believes in you, say thank you. Then prove them right. And then have a little laugh at yourself.
Believe the believers!
8. It also feels great to help others.
On running: I am equally excited and thrilled when my friends reach a running goal.
On writing: I am equally excited and thrilled when my friends reach a writing goal. Better yet, when they sell a book!
What I’ve learned: Just as your friends have a tremendous influence on your confidence, your well-being, and your happiness, YOU have the same influence on them! Show your support. Lift them up. Tell them you believe in them, too. When it comes to happy friendship moments, there is nothing–nothing nothing nothing–better than hearing a dear friend share their good news and seeing the disbelief and thrill on their faces. We are in this together. When a friend succeeds, you succeed.
I’m sure there are many, many more parallels that I will think of later. Maybe I’ll add them. But for now… I need to go face my fears, believe, and open my file.
Monday Morning Warm-Up:
What activities/challenges in your life parallel your writing?