Running and Writing: The Art + Sport of Dissolving the Block

July 23, 2013

Revved on a road to nowhere

Has this happened to you? You sit down to write…a fantastic idea, your book chapters, your site bio…and the minute the laptop’s fired up, your brain is blank. Blank as the page.

So you shove a few lines onto it, hoping to jump start the flow. What happened to all of those ideas you had? Why do they look so limp after the inspired frenzy from which you bulleted your topic list? Now that you’re here, at the page, with the time for it, why can’t you WRITE it?

Tick. Tock.

Here’s the thing. There’s a redefinition required.

Let’s use a parable for it:

An athlete on the rowing team in college, I worked out with my team twice a day. We were a winning crew in top shape led by an Olympian fresh off her medal: we ate painful workouts for breakfast. But I hated, with all my passion, running days. I hated the sluggish feeling of pounding the ground to get my body through space.

Years after college, a marathoning friend talked me into letting her train me. When I resisted, she said, “Just let me try. I can make running easy, I promise.” So I hit the road with her, and within a week, I got hooked on four-mile days that grew easily into six miles then eight.

What happened? She taught me that running was a technical sport that, for some, takes tools and training to enjoy. She taught me that just because I knew how to walk didn’t mean I knew how to run.

Writing is the same. See, the definition of “write” is to mark symbols on a surface. We know how to do that. I’m doing it now, and you’re reading those symbols. But just because we’ve learned how to string symbols into words and put them in an order, does not mean that we have an automatic skill set to compose them. On paper. In use of all of their complexities and persuasions.

Tools and talking

If you’re frustrated at your desk because, come on already, you’ve got a pen and paper and memory and you’re ready to go, maybe cut yourself some slack. Instead of running at full steam and petering out in pain, stop. What can you learn? What can you do to slow down the sport, look at its technical processes, and then practice one or a few at a time?

One of my favorites is talking. Listening to conversations, recording dialogue, typing sentences out exactly as I hear them spoken. Another is using the recording tool on my phone to talk out ideas when I’m on my morning walk…because like most verbal humans, it’s easier for me to figure out what I mean to say by talking it out. Hearing myself speak my thoughts and immediately reorganize them till they sound like what I’m trying to say is lightning fast compared to writing and believing it should be good at first try.

Collect and compose

Another consideration: In our do-it-right urge, we think that when we put pen to paper, it has to sound like what we see in our head. But take a second to notice that emotions, memories, they don’t live as words inside. They live as sensations, images. And you’ve got to find words to put to them. This is not a simple you’re-walking-now-speed-it-up-to-run process. Give yourself the time to notice the difference, and practice the space between writing and composing. Talk it out. Notice the way you tell stories to friends. Notice the way your mind finds its clarity through speech. And afterward, bullet your ideas, the images that arose, the ideas the feelings attached to. Then take that to your desk, and compose.

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