To me, writing and running have a lot in common. For the most part, they are solo endeavors. Listening to music is a must for me when doing either one, and I do both very slowly. And above all, the key to both is persistence.
I first got interested in running when I saw a man at the gym get on a treadmill and just go. He ran forever, effortlessly—no panting, no wheezing, no dropping dead. It was amazing. I was envious because I figured there was no way in the world that I could ever do anything like that. But then one morning, when the gym was deserted except for my husband, Fred, and I, I sheepishly got on a treadmill. After walking for a few minutes to figure out how to keep from face planting, I started to run. Seven minutes later, I was panting and wheezing with a killer stitch in my side. Obviously, I didn’t die, but it felt like a near thing. I could have given up right then. I can’t remember why I didn’t, but for some reason, I became more determined instead.
My first running goal was modest: to run one mile without feeling like Fred would have to call 911. Because I was so pathetic at it, I didn’t want anyone other than Fred to see me trying. (For safety’s sake, someone had to be there in case I really did need paramedics at some point.) So we started going to the gym at o’god-thirty in the morning when we knew it would be empty. (Fred is fabulous!)
At first, I’d run for three minutes, then walk for seven to recover, then rinse and repeat for an hour. Every week or two I’d increase the running intervals by 15 seconds and decrease the walk times by the same amount. Here and there I backslid, and it was always painful for a few days when I shifted times. There were plenty of mornings when I really didn’t want to go to the gym, but Fred got me through those days. If he was up and ready to go when the dog was still blissfully snoring and the bats were out, I couldn’t very well pass. With his help, I persisted and was eventually running for an hour straight without wheezing, gasping or dying of embarrassment. And there were even days when it just. Felt. Great!
Writing is the same for me in the sense that though there are times when it’s a joy, there are plenty of other times when I just don’t want to do it because I know it’s going to be frustrating and painful. But I also know I’ll never reach my writing goals without consistently working at it.
That’s where my writing buddy comes in. Though we live in different time zones, every morning we text each other to coordinate a time for a 30-minute writing sprint. (See—sprints aren’t just for running.) It’s like going to the gym together, only different. At the appointed time, when we both have a cup of tea, our respective computers fired up and our timers set, one of us texts go and we both start writing.
When times up, we text each other our results—how many words we wrote, net and/or gross, whether we flew or flailed or if we wasted 15 minutes trying to come up with a middle grade appropriate synonym for torpor. I normally score in the double digits while she is usually in the 150 to 200 range, but once I got 288 words! Which felt great, though I’ve also wound up with a net negative word count on my write-and-delete days.
If we both have a decent session and time permits, we’ll do one or two more follow-up sprints. If one of us is has a truly crappy session—like one of those net negative days—we’ll call and try to talk through the problem. Sometimes the other person has a perfect, simple solution. Sometimes the mere act of having to explain the issue is enough to spark inspiration. Even if we can’t find a good answer right then, it just helps to commiserate with someone who understands how frustrating writing can be.
Of course, the final word count really isn’t the point of the exercise. It’s putting in the time and working at it day after day that matters. That’s the only reliable way to make progress. And it’s a lot harder for me to procrastinate when I know my sprint buddy is counting on me to show up each day.
So, if you find yourself procrastinating instead of writing, try doing some writing sprints with a friend. It doesn’t matter if you live 2000 miles away from each other, you can still keep each other on track.