Writing is a Muscle


General Thoughts / Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

There’s more truth in that than even I realized.

You see, in a previous life that I’m trying to return to, I was an endurance athlete. I was running half marathons, I could swim dozens of laps in the pool and keep going, I could do sit-ups for days. Once I realized that my body is built for strength and endurance, a whole new world of exercise opened itself up to me.

But it took a really long time for me to understand this. Way back when I was a tween and was on a swim team, my coach understood this. I desperately wanted to be a sprinter, a yahoo, a pool cowboy (I have no idea if anyone calls sprinters pool cowboys but you get the idea). And rather than articulating the value in endurance swimming and encouraging me, he just let me swim what I wanted to swim. I did well, but I would have done better if I had known.

Fast forward 20 years (yes, 20) and here I am still fighting the same fight – I try to be a sprinter when I’m made for marathoning. It’s not that I’m bad at sprinting, it’s that sprinting takes so much more out of me, no matter what it is.

In my running days I would easily run 8 miles on a Wednesday night and feel amazing afterward. I wasn’t setting any land speed records, but I was consistent, my muscles conditioned and happy to be doing something challenging but familiar. Give me 20 minutes of sprints and I’m useless for 48 hours after. Sure, I’d do the workout. But it would waste me.

Apparently, as I’m learning about myself as a writer (something I never expected to do but find it quite the adventure), I’m also a marathoner. Last summer I wrote nearly every day for three months to get my novel down on paper. I spent months editing and re-writing. Now I’m headlong into the hunt for an agent. These things take time and patience, a mental conditioning that translates perfectly from the mental state one needs to run distance.

What’s funny is that when training for half marathons, I always tried to increase my speed with various workouts that promised those results. Those workouts never worked for me (there is a chance I did it wrong). Regardless, with every half marathon I ran, my time improved. My body improved at it’s own pace. So is true with my writing.

I tried endlessly to write faster, longer. To squeeze the story out of my brain. That never worked, either. The story came when it was ready to come, my wishes be damned.

None of this is to say that I will not try to exercise my sprinting muscles. The short story competitions I participate in force me to produce a story on a time table, which, in turn, forces me to produce better quality writing faster. Like sprint workouts help condition muscles for distance running (or so they say) the same is true for timed writing competitions. I love these workouts, they work my abilities in ways I might not normally try to work them. And, like sprint workouts, I’m totally spent for a few days after.

These competitions are hard, like they’re supposed to be. But there is no denying that they have made me a better writer. The truth of these exercises make me think perhaps I’ll return to sprint workouts, someday, too.