Home > On Running, On Writing > Authors and Athletes: 6 Traits Shared by Writers and Runners

Authors and Athletes: 6 Traits Shared by Writers and Runners

Some days I’d rather read about running than actually lace up my Mizuno’s and head out the door.  It can be that way with writing, too.  I’ll sooner flip through a how-to book for inspiration than just. plain. write.

That’s the thing about those disciplines.  Both require a lot of practice if you want to improve. That fact led me to wonder what other traits overlap between the two.  Here are my top six.  

Writers, like runners, are: 

  1. Patient.  Like ultrarunners crossing the Death Valley in June, writers trudge through their own low desert at times. The good ones stay the course, even when nothing important seems to surface with their story. It does eventually.  
  2. Introspective.  Natalie Goldberg called the process of writing a Long, Quiet HighwayShe’s a Buddhist, so silence suits her.  Goldberg is also a runner.   
  3. Courageous.  In her helpful guide, If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland said children are natural storytellers but observed that “creative power is usually drummed out of people early in life by criticism.”  The brave ignore their inner-critic and write anyway. As for running, if you think there’s no courage involved in reaching the tape of a 26.2 mile foot race, you’ve never hit the wall in a marathon.
  4.  Wasteful (I mean, Efficient!). Annie Dillard cut 970 pages from The Maytrees, her 270 page novel that took 10 years and several hundred revisions to complete. The result of her copious editing? A prose style one New York Times critic called “so gorgeously precise that every sentence sings.” Runners improve their style in a similar fashion.  A beginner’s bouncing stride and flailing arms give way to a smoother form in time—to achieve what Jeff Galloway calls a flowing “quiet motion.”  
  5. Tenacious. Good writing is hard work. Contemporary novelist (and runner) Haruki Murakami refers to it as grueling manual labor: “The whole process (of writing) requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”  In his memoir, Murakami says running—he runs 200 miles most months—gives him the stamina to endure his tedious, labor-intense, and sometimes painful life as a writer. 
  6.  Focused. Again Murakami weighs in: “if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it.” He was referring to writing, but the same holds true for running.  In my last 13-mile race I ran with a pacer named Tonson. With nearly 100 marathons to his credit, Tonson helped us to our goal with this mantra: “Focus is your friend today.  Find your focus and you will find the finish line.” 

Sprinting to the finish of a 13.1 mile foot race.

 I did find focus that day—and managed to cross the line with a new personal best.  Like Murakami, running teaches me a lot about discipline and endurance. Turns out, when it comes to writing, getting better also requires a healthy reliance on the traits of an athlete.

Categories: On Running, On Writing
  1. itsleisa
    August 25, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Brilliant and well-written post. It’s clear you did you’re research and know your subject(s). I LOVE that book of Brenda Uelend. It inspired me early in my writing career and I refer to it often. Also, I am going to get that Annie Dillard book on my list. Great blog. Glad I found you via #BetterUrBlog. I’m @itleisa and @littlewordgods. Happy to ‘meet’ you.

    Cheers, Leisa

    • Shelly Roberts
      August 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

      My favorite Ueland quote: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” She’s full of wonderful encouragement–I also reference her often. Thanks for your kind note, Leisha. I’ll look for you @littlewordgods. Best, Shelly

  2. August 25, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    What a beautifully crafted piece, Shelly! I’m not sure I would have ever seen the similarities between runners and writers, but your post makes it seem so obvious! I’m enjoying reading your blog for the 31daysblogchallenge.com!


    • Shelly Roberts
      August 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks Lis. I admire you for your life’s work–writing can be tough. You do it well though. I’m also learning that you make a fine writing mentor, too. 31daysblogchallenge.com is terrific! I appreciate your help and insights. Cheers, Shelly

  3. August 26, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Loved this post! So true! I also love your picture. My motto is “I run,therefore I eat”!

    • Shelly Roberts
      August 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      Thanks Judy. I just started following your tweets…and had a wicked notion to ask if you were planning a run today! Happy streaking @thestreakingrunner.com.

  4. August 26, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Hey Shelly! Sarah of http://www.runlikeamotherbook.com fame sent me your site. Love the themes and I look forward to reading more of your posts. Even though as a runner and writer I think I only score snaps for #2…does day-dreaming while doing both activities count?

    • Shelly Roberts
      August 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      Oh day-dreaming counts big time. I’m thinking of a follow up post: The 100 most annoying traits of writers and runners…you may find better luck with that list. I’m certain I will.

      I posted to your blog yesterday under your initial post. SBSOnTheRun DT’d me on Twitter with the link. Great to ‘meet’ you, Ellison–I look forward to reading more from you at http://www.oldgalrunning.blogspot.com (you’re on my blogroll now so all 25 of my readers can find you!) Cheers.

  5. August 27, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Well written, very insightful and interesting. Now I am inspired to…write! Well a little writing and definitely jogging. Running will come later!
    Great work!

    • Shelly Roberts
      August 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm

      I’m so happy to have the one and only greatest photographer, Ms. Micki McAulay stop by my blog! Thanks Micki–glad I could inspire you to write a poem or something to go with your beautiful work at photographybymicki.com. Appreciate your feedback, too!

  6. August 31, 2010 at 3:12 am

    You are too kind 🙂 I think I will write some poetry to go with my photos…that is only if the best writer I know will help edit 🙂 Hallmark here we come?? Peace and blessings, Micki

  7. September 1, 2010 at 5:24 am

    Your post reminded me of the importance of discipline and scheduling for my blog. I know I can be disciplined and stick to a schedule – especially when it comes to running and yoga. Maybe I need to think about the deeper motivation of writing… why am I doing this anyway? Yoga is my sanity, my rock, my way of getting through the day, hopefully as a better person than I am without it. Running got me through years of corporate life, it was precious time outside, away from the cube farm. I need to find that in writing………or, simply set up a 5-day/wk “training” schedule. The #betterurblog class is a start – thanks for the inspiration.

    • Shelly Roberts
      September 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      What I really want to read about from you, Denese, is yoga. No one goes from no practice at all to yoga is “my sanity, my rock, my way of getting through the day” overnight. How did you get there? How can I get there? Running is less about a discipline for me than it is about a need. Writing is like that for some people too–not me, unfortunately. And yoga is like that for you. Write about that.

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