Most of the folks who follow this silly blog are creative types–novelists, editors, journalists, photographers and other brilliant, beautiful people.
So let’s talk about creativity.
Are the arts a habit? Or does the muse randomly descend upon your noggin, so long as you make the right sacrifices and entreaties?
Though my love for the muse is strong, I’m making the case for habit.
All the way.
Because writing–and other creative work–is a hell of a lot like running. Here’s why.
1) The more you do it, the easier it gets
You can take classes about writing (or running), read books, watch videos and listen to experts.
In the end, though, there’s no substitute to getting off your duff and doing it.
And the more you write, or run, the easier it gets.
The first time you run a mile, or write something Serious, it’s painful.
Sometimes so painful that you question why anyone would do this ever again.
But then the next time, you run two miles, or write something twice as long, and it only hurts half as much.
Creativity is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
2) You can’t save up and go wild
It’s far, far easier to write 500 words a day, or run 5 miles five days a week, then tell yourself, “Hey, I’m busy this week, but on the weekend, I’ll crank out 2,500 words of that novel or run 25 miles.”
Hear me now and believe me later in the week: trying to cram it all into a weekend, or a single day, is setting yourself up to fail.
A mile a day is easy. You can walk it.
Same thing with 100 words, which you can do with a stubby pencil and the back of an envelope while hanging upside down on a roller coaster.
Two miles a day is still easy, just as 200 words a day is a breeze.
The difficulty goes up exponentially.
Famous novelists in history like Hemingway used to count their words religiously, by hand. They didn’t have a button on Word that did the work for them. And they’d quit for the day after hitting a target like 500 words.
Doesn’t sound like much. Yet that 500 a day is huge.
If you write 500 words a day, every day, that’s 182,500 words a year.
Three novels, unless you’re doing sagas about elves and dragons and such, in which case congrats on finishing that prologue. (I say that out of love.)
Sure, on good days you’ll crank out 1,000 words, and on great days you’ll hit 2,000 and if you’re absolutely on fire, congrats and 4,000.
It’s just that you can’t count on 2,000 words a day, every day, week after week.
Same thing with running. I can do 5 miles maybe three days a week, and work up to four or five days a week after a month or two.
Might do ten miles once a week, if I’m feeling it.
Ten miles a day, every day, isn’t realistic.
Resting all week and running 25 miles on Sunday? Nopity nope nope. Ain’t happening.
3) Loud music and solitude
There are writers I know who can’t write unless the door is closed, to get rid of that feeling that somebody is behind them.
Unless you have a twin, or a great friend who’s in exactly the same shape as you, it’s tough finding a running partner who goes at the same pace and is available to run whenever you can cram it in.
Writing and running are both made for headphones and solitude.
This is one area where running and writing diverge, since I don’t write anything Serious without a fresh cup of joe, while running five or ten miles while carrying a coffee mug hasn’t worked out yet.
4) Coaching, advice and gear isn’t everything, but it sure helps
It’s possible to write only using a pen and legal pads.
Somebody could run barefoot, every day, and be faster than a sedentary person running once a week wearing $225 shoes.
HOWEVER: good coaching, tips and equipment help.
I type faster on an ergonomic keyboard and run faster with good shoes.
Scrivener is better than Word, which is better than a legal pad.
And in both things, there’s always something to learn. One of the wisest men I know says, “Whenever I meet somebody, I learn something.”
Never think asking for advice is a flashing neon sign telling the world you’re an amateur.
Coaching, advice and gear gets more important the better you get at writing or running.
Professional runners and writers don’t tell people, “Yeah, I do this for a living, which makes me an expert, so why would I ask people for help or advice?”
The opposite is true, with the best professionals in the world seeking out the MOST coaching and help, since even a 1 percent boost to their performance matters.
5) Mixing it up is essential
You don’t run the same route, distance and pace every time. You do a hill day, a sprint day, a distance day.
Same thing with writing. There’s great benefit to mixing up what you do and layering it all together.
Journalists should try fiction.
Novelists should give poetry a go.
Screenwriters can gain from checking out rhetoric and speechwriting.
And there’s an order to how you write or train.
Runners and other athletes do workouts in certain progressions: start slow and build up volume. Rest, stretch, massage, ice, heat. It’s not the same thing every day.
Writers have their own progressions. You can’t write and edit at the same time, just like you can’t run and stretch in the same minute. These things happen in series, not parallel.
6) Deadlines focus the mind
Without deadlines, it’s easy to meander along. There’s always tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.
Deadlines make things happen.
I’m running more and more often, and for longer distances, due to a looming deadline: a half marathon in September.
Same thing is true with writing, where deadlines rules.
For the month of August, I did a little experiment. Could I write one post on this silly blog every day, put down at least 500 words a day on the new novel–plus train for the half marathon?
Running got easier, every time. Two miles turned into three miles, then five, six, seven, nine, ten–it flowed.
Without that half-marathon coming up, I would’ve been happy doing five miles forever, and never tested myself to see if nine or 10 would kill me.
Though I missed one Friday with the blog, I doubled up on a different day for 31 posts in 31 days. NOT TOO SHABBY. Pretty sure that’s the most I’ve posted in any month since the dawn of time.
And on the novel, I cranked out 15 chapters, which works out to half a chapter a day, every day.
For structure geeks, that’s 15 chapters out of 36 total in a four-act structure, with nine chapters per act.
Three chapters shy of half a novel is a beautiful, beautiful month.
You don’t complain about that, unless you want the Writing Gods to strike you down with lightning after opening a sinkhole beneath your feet.
I raise my glass to August, for it was Good.
Not good because the muse decided to bless me.
Good because habit, discipline and dedication beats inspiration. Every single time.