Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Top Tips from the Treadmill

Everything I know about writing I learned from running. Really.

1. One step at a time. You don’t try and conquer a mountain in one go. You just go slowly, slowly, watching your feet make a simple pattern beneath you. It’s the same with writing. You don’t bang out an entire opus in an afternoon. It’s one word at a time, one para at a time, one chapter at a time.

2. Showing up is half the battle. I knew, when I started running, that if I set a huge goal, like “run marathon” I’d freak myself out so bad I’d never get out of bed. So instead, I made a mini-goal – just get your butt to the gym. That’s all, I’d say to myself – you don’t even have to run when you get there. Of course once you’ve got your gym gear on and you’re looking at the treadmill, it’s pretty obvious you’ll step on it…and maybe even reach your daily target. But I didn’t start out with anything other than “Get there.” And yes, it’s the same with writing. Don’t freak yourself thinking about how much work lies ahead before you complete the novel. Just commit to sitting at your desk. Every day. You don’t even have to write when you get there. But I bet you will.

3. Make the time. I decided I wanted to run 10K, and lose 10 lbs. I knew that in order to reach these goals, I’d have to seriously increase my time at the gym, both to burn the required number of calories and get my fitness level and speed up to par. But time after time, I’d find that I’d left myself barely enough time to find an available machine. Then I blocked off two hours a day to work out. That gave me enough time to meet my 500 cal goal while moving at a pathetically slow pace, the only pace I could muster after 4 years “on the bench” with a knee injury. And lo and behold, the weight started coming off, and my running speed began to pick up. Within a month, I was moving fast enough to blast through those 500 cals in less than an hour.

That’s the way it works with writing too. You can’t expect to complete a novel if you only write during commercial breaks. Allot the time. You’ll start to see the results.

4. Stretch. If I don’t warm up and stretch those rubberbands I call muscles before and after running, I creep around like a lil ol lady the next day. But if I do stretch, I run better, and feel better too. Writers also need to stretch. First, you need to limber up. Start by writing something easy, or by editing a previous piece of writing. But that’s not all. Don’t forget to stretch in that other way too – by pushing yourself past your normal limits. Sure, it might hurt a bit. But the long term results will be more fluid and limber writing.

5. It's easier with a friend. The miles disappear beneath your feet when you're yakking with a buddy. Writing is also less arduous when you have a pal to help you through the rough patches. Join a writer's group. Go to Writer's Association meetings (like Find folks who understand what you do and why you do it - friends who can cheer you when you succeed, and kick you in the tush when you are feeling sorry for yourself.

6. Life is more fun when you're fit. You have more energy, more ideas, and more peace of mind. Running gave me the ability to perservere through the rotten times - and Lord, there were rotten times. I spent less time fretting, and more time laughing - an important difference when you get a gazillion rejection letters in your inbox.

Although I started out as the ultimate couch-clutching bookworm, I wound up becoming a real fitness hound. Naturally, my interests and passions slopped over into my work. For example, in my upcoming book, The Quiz Book for Boys (Scholastic Canada, January '10), I sneaked some fitness-oriented material in between the kooky quizzes such as What's Your Underwear Style? and Werewolf, Vampire or Zombie? The quizzes allow kids to test their fitness levels by doing pushups, chin ups, sit ups and other simple activities. With the trend toward childhood obesity, I think kids really need to be able to evaluate their own health in a concrete  - and fun - way.

I would have never come up with  The Quiz Book for Boys if I hadn't become a runner myself. Perhaps this fact illustrates that life is a karmic wheel, or dare I say, a cosmic treadmill? Your art will go where your feet lead. So maybe the best way to kick-start your career as a writer is to lace up your Avias and kick it into high gear.

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