Five things I’ve learned this year about writing from running

“I was waiting for you to compare the marathon to novel writing,” my friend J wrote to me after I described my October marathon to her. “But sometimes running is just running.”

Oh, but running is never just running – at least not for me. Running and writing chase each other through my mind and my life, sometimes complimenting each other, sometimes balancing each other. Occasionally conflicting, like which to do if I have only one free hour?

I have compared novel writing and marathon running directly. And I’m not the only one to “apply principles of exercise to art.”

Lately, I feel more confident in my running than in my writing. My inner runner is the big sister, telling my inner writer how she’s ventured out – and sharing things she’s discovered. So here are five things I’ve learned about writing from running in 2023.

1. There’s a hill leading up to the start, and I have to get over it every day.

No matter how energetic, this body at rest wants to stay at rest. I love my daily run, but it’s often hard to get up and out.

It’s the same on the writing front. There’s an obstacle in front of my fiction and most days I just don’t wanna.

In both, I’ve started to visualize this resistance as a little, grassy hill. Sure, it’s hard to start compared to the cushy tuffet of doing nothing. But I feel fantastic once I get over it and get my miles in or words down.

Tomorrow there will be another hill.

2. I can shrink my fears by facing them.

Almost every Saturday, I run a timed 5K parkrun. I’ve always been nervous about lining up at a start with a bunch of other runners and an official clock – and I still am. But weekly exposure has shifted the fear into better flavors: exhilaration, camaraderie, more flexible self-expectations.

On the writing front, fear often prevents me from sending stories out or engaging with other writers or even from beginning a piece because my inner editor censors it of existence before I get a single word down.

This is the area where my writing self has the most to learn from my running self.

3. Comparisons are not helpful. Comrades are.

Both writing and running are solitary endeavors, both with plenty of opportunity to look around and see how everybody else is doing – and to feel inadequate. The more I connect with other runner and writers, the more fun both become, shifting me away from resentment of those who have apparently “made it” toward joy in wherever I am on my own trajectories.

I depend on my novel support group – a trio that meets every month not to critique (sometimes we don’t even exchange pages) but to talk about our long, quiet journeys. I also find good company with #5amwritersclub and from reading newsletters by friends (looking at you, Writing is Joy, Dishwasher Café, and First Draft) and friends of friends like SubMakk, More to Hate and Craft Talk. Give yourself a gift and check out all these amazing writers in the new year.

4. When it’s time to go, GO. When it’s time to rest, REST.

Marathon training plans follow a pattern of hard days followed by easy days…with at least one day of complete rest each week. For my spring marathon, I’m paying special attention to running EASY on easy days – so I can give it my all on the hard days.

It’s clicked lately that I can do the same with writing: really go for it during my dedicated writing time – then don’t worry about it for the rest of the day. My writing brain idles high, especially when I’m anxious. Occasionally, I’ll have a great idea or solve a narrative problem while I’m, say, playing with my kid. But 99% of the time, thinking about writing when I have to be doing something else is an unhelpful treadmill of fretting. When I’m not running, I’m not running – pretty clear line. I’m learning to do the same with the fiction.

5. Set daily goals & celebrate small victories.

I did that hard workout, great job!

I wrote 500 words today, way to go!

2024: Lace up your shoes, pick up your pen…

 Whether you’re writing or running or both, I wish you the best of everything in 2024!

Danehy Park parkrun, December 2023


  1. Raymond Shuster on January 3, 2024 at 5:09 pm

    Good thoughts.

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