The writing marathon: how running helps me write – Hazel Gaynor

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By Hazel Gaynor

I am not a natural runner. The mere act of putting on my running gear stirs a sense of trepidation that is only made worse by the jingle at the start of my running app and the voice in my ear that tells me to start running. For thirty minutes Good Me and Bad Me jostle for attention. One tells me to keep going while the other tells me it’s okay to quit and walk home. Good Me always wins, and despite the struggle, it is always worth it.♥

The same happens when I’m writing. The voices in my head alternately tell me, “This is brilliant. Your best yet!” and, “This is terrible – nobody will ever read it.” I’m now working on my sixth novel and while I may be more familiar with the process of writing and all that comes with publication, there are still many days when the words won’t come and scenes that were so good in my head fail to deliver on the page. No matter how many times you do it, writing a novel doesn’t get any easier.

What I have learned over the last five years of writing however, is that there is little point sitting at the desk, waiting for my errant muse to show up. On a bad writing day all that the ‘sitting’ achieves is increasing levels of self-doubt and a tendency to procrastinate by looking at GIFs of cats in boxes. This self-imposed Stockholm Syndrome relationship with the writing desk gets me nowhere, so I put on my running gear because while I definitely won’t find my muse by laughing at cats, I just might find her in the soles of my running shoes or in the road stretching out ahead of me.

The first five minutes of every run are always awful, and isn’t it the same with writing? That moment when you OPEN THE FILE and it all feels so impossible. But you start writing and after the uncomfortable opening minutes you find yourself slipping back into your characters and your fictional world and it all flows much more smoothly. So it is with running. The decision to act – to begin – can often be the hardest part of the process.

As I settle into my stride, I almost start to enjoy my run. I begin to clear my mind of all that toxic online slime that steals my confidence and my words and my writing joy. I splash through muddy puddles and don’t care. I’m enchanted by the scenery on frosty winter-sun speckled mornings when everything looks like a Constable painting, and I’m so pleased I made the effort to get outside.

Running doesn’t have to be about keeping fit or losing weight (or your dignity in a muddy field). It can also be about gaining perspective and inspiration and motivation. While I’m running, my mind sorts things out. I might discover a perfect scene of dialogue, or finally figure out how my chapter ends, or understand my main character’s motivation a little better. Yes, I huff and I puff and stagger back to the car with puce-cheeks and Cruella Deville hair, but I feel invigorated: ready to face the blank page. There is, of course, proven chemical endorphin science behind all this, but all I know is that I feel much more productive when I return to the desk after being away from it.

For me, writing is always a marathon, not a sprint. It is an exercise in motivation and will-power, discipline and determination. Just as there are no crowds lining the route of your run, there are no readers to cheer you on during those messy first drafts and early morning starts, but they will be there when all that hard slog is behind you and publication day arrives. For now, it is as simple as this: show up every day, and get on with it. One word, one step at a time. In quiet days and dark mornings. In perfect downhill moments of euphoria when you feel like you could run and write forever, and up those awful inclines when you struggle on like a drunken uncle at a wedding and curse the stitch in your side and the nonsense you are putting on the page.

You. Just. Keep. Going.

Think of it not in terms of how many more kilometres/words/chapters there are to go, but how many kilometres/words/chapters are already behind you. There is nothing better than the words you have already typed, and the puddles you have already splashed through.

It all starts with the decision to act. Put your running gear on. Write the first word. The rest will follow.

Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris will be published in 2017. Hazel was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and her work has been translated into several languages. The Cottingley Secret is out now.

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