When I started running, I enjoyed it because it seemed to be a time when I could clear my head. It was a chance to be unplugged. Very quickly though that time to clear my head became “time to get things done in my head”. Whether it was a plot device I was stuck on, or a checklist of things that needed to be done that night, I would spend the run multitasking. That was a horrible idea.
Multitasking while running sucked for several reasons. I would lose my sense of pace and either get winded too soon, or I would slow to a crawl and not get a good workout. I would lose my form and that would lead to sore knees and ankles. Sadly, my body’s fragile. Also, by the time I finished my run, my mind was a mess. I had a million things I felt I needed to get done or write down. It completed ruined the reasons I was enjoying running so much.
Now when I run, the only thing I focus on is the run itself: breathing in and out, my feet hitting the ground, my arms moving. Every so often I’ll find my mind start to wander along with a song, but I’ll always make sure to pull myself back.
It may feel counterintuitive, but thinking about nothing but my breathing during a run makes me so much more productive afterwards. That chance to clear my head, to take a moment to focus and relax, makes all the difference in the world. It’s so easy to try to multitask things to feel like you’re getting more done, but all it really does is create a constant state of busy. Sometimes the most productive thing I can do when I’m facing writer’s block is the dishes. Or take a walk. I suppose you could call it mindfulness, but I don’t think I know what I’m doing enough to call it that. The greater point is, taking time to clear your head and be conscious of the present in a world where we’re constantly surrounded by texts, emails, tweets, and low attention span drivel, is a great thing to practice.
The other night I was walking back from a Starbucks near my house. It’s only a mile away, but since it is in the mall and I live in Southern California, my natural inclination has always been to drive. Lately I’ve started running and being generally healthier, so I walk as much as I can. I’ve even walked to work (1.8 miles) a couple of times.
As I was walking back, a guy was jogging down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. He wasn’t in the best shape and was definitely struggling, but I gave him a nod of understanding. It brought to mind a great quote I’ve seen everywhere since I started running, “No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch.” It’s so true and it applies to writing too. No matter how awful you think your first draft is, it’s still more words than the person who keeps talking up his story that’s never been written.
The thing that made me relate as I saw him jog by was that he was doing it pretty late at night. It was dark and there weren’t many people out. Putting yourself out there as a beginner in anything can always be intimidating. When I started running, I would make sure it was dark out and the evening traffic was clear. I could just imagine some passersby pointing and laughing as I struggled along at what could only be described as a medium-paced walk.
Over time, I got faster. My form got better. Eventually I was running well simply because I wasn’t self-conscious anymore. Sure, I’m by no means a fast runner and I’m still a ways off from my targeted health goals, but I’m confident and comfortable running. I go running right when I get home now even though the sun goes down later. It’s daylight out and there’s a long line of traffic at the intersections I run through, but I don’t even notice anymore.
I’ve written some terrible first drafts and a couple of scripts that will never see the light of day. But it took those first couple times in the dark, struggling along while getting the hang of things in order to get better. I’m more comfortable sending out my writing now than I was before. It’s by no means where I want it to be, but I know that I’ve put in that time in the dark and can have my writing out in the open now.