Let’s talk about running.
People think, because I am a trapeze performer and I am slim and have defined muscles, that I am also fit. They think I have good stamina and can do things that fit people do, like stride up a mountainous slope without getting out of breath.
The truth is, my cardio fitness is utter balls.
This truth was whipped into my freezing face a few weeks ago as Joe and I marched enthusastically up Power Mountain in a cloud, and I had to stop every 35 metres or so to wheeze like a leaky bagpipe.
It was a little upsetting. I’m a writer, so I spend more time than I really should sitting in a chair, and Covid has done nothing good for my physical health, despite my half-arsed efforts to move my body more. I don’t expect to be able to sprint up hills as if an angry clown was chasing me, but I do want to be able to walk up a steep slope without it feeling like a near-death experience.
So I made a decision: I was going to start running again. And I did.
But this time, instead of launching myself into it headfirst and expecting to be able to run a half-marathon immediately, I paused and remembered something: it takes time to build fitness.
It takes time to build anything good. I was taking it slow.
Lacing up my shiny new running shoes, I set my timer for 1 minute and jogged on out. Then I walked for 4 minutes. And repeated it on the way back. I did this every day for a week. Next week, I ran for 2 minutes and walked for 3. Then I ran for 3 minutes and walked for 2. And so on.
But here’s the kicker: I do it every weekday morning and it’s the very first thing I do, right before my daily yoga sesh, before my shower, before eating, before ANYTHING. And lo! and behold, I’m starting to see results. I can march up our steep garden to see the TinySheeps without gulping air like a frantic fish. I can even jog up a gentle slope without struggling.
Growing up, I was told practice makes perfect. We all were, I guess. But it doesn’t. Practice makes permanent, and that’s what I’m aiming for with my tiny runs. A permanent practice to ensure a non-wheezy, springfooted future.
You already know this. After all, you’re good at something, right? Like I’m good at trapeze, because I practice a LOT. I repeat moves and trasitions a LOT. I’m good at writing because—and you know what’s coming—I practice a LOT. I write every day.
You probably can’t do trapeze (if you can YAY please message me and we'll nerd out) but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, right? You don't think you're in some way defective because you can't do cool stuff on a trapeze? It just means you’ve never been taught and you’ve never practiced. It's not that you're "not a trapeze person". Who is? And so it is with anything. If you ever think you’re not a good writer, I’d ask you this: how often do you practice? Have you ever had “lessons”?
Just as I won’t create a base level of fitness I’m happy with if I drag myself out for a painful run every few days or so, I won’t be able to write the way I want to write if I fling a few words at the page sporadically. We don’t make much progress if we write or run or play on the trapeze in fits and starts. The only way to master something is through consistency. Becoming comfortable with repetition, with routine, with boredom. Turning boredom into joy and doing the thing we want to master over and over and over again.
That’s the GOOD NEWS. There is nothing WRONG with us. We’re not incapable of writing well. The power to become amazing at something is right there in our hands and it’s so simple it’s ridiculous: do it, then do it again, and again, and again and again. Look for a way to improve 1% every day, whatever improvement looks like to you. Just 1% more poetically, faster, more persuasively, more evocatively.
Now let’s talk about writing and what it is, because when I say writers need to write pretty much every day, I mean it. But writing every day doesn’t necessarily mean banging out 5,000 words a pop. It doesn’t mean hours alone in a dark room; not everyone can do that.
Doing a chunk of writing several times a week is ideal, and in between—the possibilities are endless.
Like… taking a few moments first thing to scribble a few lines about what we’re grateful for. Or dipping in and out of a notebook throughout the day, recording observations about people, places, things, conversations so we don’t lose the ideas they give us. Or opening voice notes on a mobile phone and quickly recording a few thoughts or lines that might be good for a chapter of your book. Or mind-mapping a chapter outline. Or bullet-pointing some concepts so we can get our ideas in order.
In among those activities we have to form sentences and paragraphs and pages or we will never create beautiful worlds with our words… but in the meantime, writing is thinking, observing, noting, talking, listening, reading, watching—and, yes, making marks on paper.
Become as prolific as you can, whether that's in articles, books, social media posts, blogs, podcasts, or poems. Write write write. Set out your ideas, your thoughts, and then put them into the world. Allow the world to gift you feedback. Then take that feedback and make your writing more YOU. Just a tiny little bit more you, every day.
Writing every day is crucial if we want to improve, if we want to move more of the right people in the direction we want to go. But writing might not look like you expect it to look, so don't let those expectations get in your way.
Write. Publish. Repeat.
Note: the photograph accompanying this article was taken on September 1, 2016. I drove all the way down to Samphire Hoe for a running "race". It was Discworld themed and a tribute to Terry Pratchett. I got the BEST medal. On the run, I passed Death. Which seemed appropriate to this article, given that I often feel like death while I'm running...
Notes in the Margin
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