Friday, July 29, 2011

What Training for a Marathon Taught me about Writing a Novel

Welcome, welcome! Today is another great day to be inspired, and I'm happy to announce that Carrie Mumford will be taking over for another edition of the #lifelistclub! I will be posting tomorrow at Catie Rhodes blog, so be sure to check that out then.

Without further ado, I give you Carrie.

Last year I set a really big goal for myself: run a marathon. Several of the Life List bloggers have set big goals for themselves this year. In fact, many Life Listers, including my gracious host, Jennie, would like to complete a novel. To me, setting out to complete a novel is the marathon of the writing world. Short stories and articles require fewer words, and thereby less time and planning to complete. I think of these as the 10 kilometer races of the writing world. Obviously this rule isn’t steadfast – there are some novels that come easy, and some short stories that take forever to perfect, but overall, it seems that writing a novel is a big, giant, marathon of a commitment.

Here’s a video about marathoning that gets my heart racing:

As you watch, imagine they are talking about writing a novel – the similarities abound!

Here are three lessons I learned while training for a marathon that have helped me as I work on my first novel:

1. Life is going to get in the way – you need to persevere:

Even with a solid plan, unexpected things are going to interrupt your progress towards your goals. When I was training for the marathon, my plans were interrupted by invitations for cottage weekends, work events and visitors from out of town. Despite my best efforts in planning, there were disruptions outside of my control that caused me to miss training runs from time to time.

When you’re writing, it’s easy to be distracted by other life commitments. As I learned during my marathon training, the key to reaching your goal is to persevere in the face of the distractions life throws in the way of your goal. You will not make every training run or planned writing session, but the important part is that you pick up where you left off for the next session.

2. Asking for help is much better than suffering alone:

There came a time during my training that a knee injury forced me to seek medical attention: I knew that if I wasn’t able to fix the pain in my knee, I’d never be able to make it through 42.2 kilometers (or 26 miles) on race day. I was so afraid that the doctor was going to tell me to stop training that I delayed my visit until I could barely walk (for the record, this is a really bad plan of action). When I finally did get help with me knee, it only took a few physiotherapy sessions before I was running again, and I really regretted not having gone to get help sooner.

There are times when writers need help too. In fact, last week Jennie sent out a cry for help when she expressed the frustration she was feeling with her WIP. If you’re struggling with your writing, reach out to the writing community, either on Twitter (the #LifeListClub is a great place to start), or in-person to another writer friend, or even seek help from a professional (perhaps by taking a writing class or visiting a writer-in-residence). The writing community is very supportive and friendly, and it’s a whole lot nicer to reach out for help than to sit at your desk alone, beating your head against the keyboard.

3. You’re about to do battle with your brain – make sure the non-lazy side wins:

Training for a marathon is not only physically challenging, but also a mentally and emotionally challenging. I found one of the toughest parts of getting myself to the race was beating down the lazy side of my brain that was constantly trying to convince me that cleaning out my closet or reading was way more important that heading out for a run.

I’ve had to fight this same battle with my brain when writing. Sometimes it’s really easy to rationalize skipping a writing session because it’s sunny outside, or because your spouse would like to take you for dinner. And sometimes the lazy-side of your brain is right (which is what makes it so tricky). But often, you need to tell that lazy side of your brain to take a hike and just get back to writing.

The journey is worth it:

Training for a marathon and writing a novel are both physically and emotionally taxing, but in the end, it’s worth it. I completed my first marathon last September, and I can confidently say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Despite my training, it hurt. Things went wrong (I lost my pace group and ended up stumbling, watch-less through the second half of the race). I can admit that there were times when I had to fight back tears – I was frustrated, in pain, exhausted. I’ve felt these exact same emotions as I work on my novel. But I finished the marathon, and I don’t regret a second of it. I can only hope that the experience of completing a novel will give me the same feeling of satisfaction.

Have you ever run a marathon? Even better, have you written a novel AND run a marathon? What was your experience like? Do you have any tips for people striving towards a marathon-sized goal?


Carrie Mumford is a writer and editor living in the wild Canadian West. She writes short stories and non-fiction articles, and is working on her first novel. When she’s not writing she can be found chipping away at her certificate in publishing, running, trying to learn CSS or watching knitting videos on YouTube (which is infinitely more entertaining than it sounds!).

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