How to Write Like an Olympian

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Photo by Kristin Nador
Image via Flickr/Creative Commons

Are you sleepy? Yeah, me too. Is it because you've been staying up all night watching the Olympics? Yeah, me too. 

Believe it not, however, between my cheers for the USA women's gymnastics and men's swim teams, I've realized that writers could learn a lot from Olympians. They can teach us a lot about dedication and the value of practice. 

Last week I showed up to my weekly meeting with my writing partner with no desire to write.  I'd spent the morning vacuuming the carpets and cleaning the bathrooms of my apartment. Before that I went to the gym to lift weights and to a spinning class in which I'm certain the instructor was trying to kill us all. (Love you, Cherie!)

My body was tired and now I was supposed to sit in a coffee shop, in a hard chair and write something brilliant. But that was the problem -- the idea that I needed to write something amazing, to complete an essay that would be my big break in publishing or finish a blog post that would win me some sort of award. No. That moment, that time to write, should have been about practice. As writers we sometimes lose sight of the importance of writing as a practice.

I'm a runner so I, of all people, should know how important practice is. I remember the day I decided to start running. I'd always been an active person. Back in college I taught group fitness classes at the university's recreation center. But I never ran. Then one day last year while walking my favorite neighborhood trail I just decided to give it a try.

I was out of breath in 30 seconds. But then I kept trying and one day I ran for 4 minutes without stopping, then 9 minutes, then 20 minutes, and the next thing I knew I'd signed up for a half marathon. And now I'm one of those people driving around with a 13.1 bumper sticker on the back of their car.

But to get the Mercedes Half-Marathon Finisher the medal hanging in my bedroom I had to practice. I had to go out and run in the heat, in the cold, and sometimes even in the rain. I had to run when I didn't feel like it.

And every run is not a race. You have to practice. You have to train. You have to run for the sake of running.

Likewise, sometimes I need to write for the sake of writing. I need to write when I don't feel like it. I need to write even when I don't feel inspired to do so. It's not necessary to always sit down to write with a specific goal in mind. No need to say, "Today I'm going to write an award-winning essay on my definition of feminism." Sometimes I need to just sit and write for the sake of filling the page.

Natalie Goldberg, whom I quote a lot on this blog because she's a genius, recommends filling one notebook each month with this practice-style writing. If you're looking for a project for #WRITELIKECRAZY month, I think that would be a great one.

Goldberg also sees the similarities between writers and athletes. In her book Writing Down the Bones she says:

"This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Some days you don't want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don't wait around for inspiration and deep desire to run. It'll never happen, especially if you're out of shape or have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. And in the middle of the run, you love it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time." 


  1. Agreed!! I love the quote about running and writing! I'm not a runner but I can relate!

    I just think it is going to be difficult and wonderful all at the same time! Definitely about to be a process and some cursing and maybe some crying going on!

    1. Exactly! It's a process. Cursing and crying is completely necessary. ;)

  2. I love this blog post. I agree with you writers can learn a lot from the Olympics. I'm in the same boat I'm tired because I stay up late watching the Olympics. Even though I'm not participating in the WRITELIKECRAZY writing theme this month, I will be WRITINGLIKECRAZY next month in September. I already wrote out my goals for the upcoming school year, rest of 2012, and getting ready to relaunch my blog on August 13th. Thank you for a great blog post!

    1. Thanks for reading! I'm so excited about your blog relaunch. And I love reading about other people's goals, so be sure to post those.

  3. Reading your blog and writing this while watching the Olympics for the second night in a row until midnight :) So worth it!

    Looking forward to you joining Blog Brunch on Saturday. Should be a great discussion. Glad to be introduced to your blog!


    1. Amy, thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I'm really looking forward to Blog Brunch. And I'm up watching gymnastics right now. LOL

  4. You know that I struggle with practice in EVERY aspect of my life. I'm very good at ESTABLISHING routines for writing (and reading and running and exercise and sleeping and dog-dealing and movie-watching and pretty much everything else), but MAINTAINING those routines is a different thing altogether.

    I take solace in the fact that everybody struggles, even the people I tend to think of as never dispirited.

    1. I have a hard time maintaining routines too. For example, I'm worried that my exercise regimen is going to suffer greatly once school starts and I return to my full-time job.