Running Taught me Writing (By Mrudula Anne, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)

Running Taught me Writing

By Mrudula Anne, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant

 

At the risk of sounding dumb, I am going to be honest and admit that I had not heard of something called a “marathon” or “half-marathon” until a couple of years ago. The only time I used to run for exercise before that was when I ran on a treadmill; I had never run outdoors. The first time I tried running outdoors was to train for a half marathon in 2011. However, I was too ambitious and too critical of my running speed and I ended up injuring myself in no time. I developed a shin splint and could not go back to running for 6 months.

 

In 2012, I started training again, but promised myself not to be too critical. I decided that speed or even running the whole time did not matter. The only thing that mattered was reaching the finish line. I came to realize that my very attempt to get off the couch and on the road should be celebrated, and those little pats on the back kept me going. Being too critical of the work you do is the first and fiercest enemy of your writing. I believe that your mind can think and write only when you let your thoughts fly free of judgments; and when your thoughts fly, your fingers do magic on paper or on-screen. Celebrate the attempt to sit at a computer, or to stand with a blank page and write, while remembering: nothing else matters.

 

Besides self-critique, my other problem is a stopwatch. It pressures me and makes me feel like I am racing against time. Quality writing comes when the number of letters you type are NOT racing against the number of minutes you have. Giving yourself an adequate amount of time to sit down and letting your thoughts flow are vital for producing quality writing.

 

Listen to your writing and it will speak to you. When I started running everybody told me to listen to my body for then I would be able to correct my running form and know what I was not doing right. It did not make sense at all, but as I slowed down, shut my internal critic and started paying attention, there was this little voice that would speak to me. With the help of external resources and this little voice inside me, I worked on changing my running form. Similarly for writing, pay close attention to your writing style and common mistakes. Work on one mistake for a week or two (the timeline is subjective) and dedicate two or three writing sessions where you force yourself to write a paragraph or one page without the mistake. Let me take a step back here and be honest: deliberately trying to change a habit was not easy and took a lot of effort, but in the end it paid off. Some mistakes were easy to rectify while some took longer, but in the end this exercise helped improve my writing quality.

 

While quality of writing is extremely important, as graduate students we know that quantity is important as well. With running, initially 4 or 5 miles were my long runs, but as the weeks rolled by they became part of my short weekly runs. While I still respect the distance, my tolerance for miles and my definition of a long run changed. I have seen the same thing happen to my writing. As the weeks of regular practicing go by, I observe that I can sit down and focus on my writing for longer periods of time than I did a couple of weeks back. The longer writing sessions paired with regular shorter ones helped me improve my endurance and stamina in terms of writing. I am tired at the end of a 10 page or a two-hour writing session, but the difference is that I now last till the end of it and I am more productive.

 

Emphasizing quantity should not decrease the quality of your work. Regular practice writing sessions are vital and neglecting them will affect your writing quality. My training schedule for a half marathon includes short runs combined with two days of strength and stretch workout regimens during the week, along with a long run over the weekend. The short runs and workout regimens during the week are comparable to regular writing sessions and practice. Shorter runs during the week became so manageable that I slowly started neglecting them. I forced myself to finish my long runs, but their quality started suffering and I realized how important the short runs and exercise were, for long runs of better quality. Applying the same logic to writing, I realized that the quality along with quantity of writing can be improved only by keeping up with my shorter and regular writing sessions.

 

As a graduate student with a lot of reading to do, I always wished someone would read the article for me and just give me a summary of it, so here you go, guys: below are some of the tips that worked for me in terms of my writing quality.

 

  • Not being too critical of myself and learning to let go.
  • Appreciating and rewarding myself for the effort and motivation.
  • Planning ahead and giving my creativity and critical eye enough but separate time slots.
  • Paying close attention to my writing and setting time aside to work on fixing common mistakes.
  • Not neglecting regular practice sessions, because these are very important. They actually helped improve the quality and quantity of my longer writing sessions.

Remember this is subjective and not written in stone. These techniques helped me improve my writing and my running as well. I finished my first half marathon in 2012 and now am training for another one. In terms of writing, I published my first journal article, which is forthcoming in 2014, and I am working on another one. What works for you, works, and what does not work, does not work. Keeping an open mind and a positive attitude are the key.