Run/Revise

I like to run almost as much as I like to write. I run six days a week, anywhere from six to nine miles a day, and log at least forty miles a week. Running is my quiet time, my peaceful time, my thinking time. I don’t listen to music, and I prefer to go early, before sunrise, so I’m alone on the trail and free to let my mind wander. When I’m running, I muse on whatever I happen to be plotting/writing/revising. I’ve worked out dozens of story issues and have had countless breakthroughs while pounding the pavement. In fact, my morning runs are what got me through my latest revision with my sanity (barely) in tact. (Anecdote: Recently I emailed Agent Vickie to tell her about an ah ha! moment I had while running. She responded with Imagine what you’d accomplish if you ran a marathon! Right?!)

Gearing up for five miles... #challengephotomay #fit #photoadaymay #you

(Oh, look… My legs. Because these days I’m terrified to use anyone’s images but my own.)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the psychological stages of running parallel the psychological stages of revising. Anyone who’s ever taken a jog knows that there are peaks and valleys that come with the workout, and for me, revisions are the same. I took some time to jot down a few notes about the ups and downs I endure while running, and I was excited about how perfectly they align with the mental ups and downs I experience while revising…

Initial DreadRunning: When my alarm blares at 5:00 a.m. Revising: When CP/agent notes arrive in my inbox. Emotions Experienced: Fear, trepidation, curiosity. Duration: Until the running/revising actually begins.

False HighRunning: The first mile or so (my first mile is downhill, so I’m usually feeling extra good). Revising: The beginnings of brainstorming–oh, this is so doable! Emotions Experienced: Bogus confidence, excitement, naivety. Duration: Until the first challenge (uphill climb, plot hole) surfaces.

Slogging (A Technical Term)Running: Mile two, when my feet are dragging and my breath is stilted. Revising: Picking through my manuscript, muddling through the easy stuff, avoiding the big (read: HARD) changes because my objectives still aren’t quite solidified. Emotions Experienced: Uncertainty, avoidance, inability to focus. Duration: Varies, but hopefully not too long. Can often be cured by chocolate/coffee/and, um… running.

Setting A PaceRunning: Miles three and four, when I stop thinking about how hard running is and start thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do it. Revising: When the changes start to make sense and a picture of what the manuscript could be begins to take shape. Emotions Experienced: Belief that maybe it can be done, renewed motivation. Duration: Until that BIG hurdle arises–you know the one. The hurdle that seems impossible to clear and makes you want to collapse on the sidewalk (running), or throw your computer through a window (revising).

I’ll-Never-Finish RutRunning: Mile five, when my knees start to hurt and the sun starts to rise and I’m hot and sweaty and feeling sorry for myself. Revising: When my manuscript is so torn up it’s unrecognizable. It seems impossible to piece into something even loosely resembling a story. (This, too, is usually the point at which one of my friends gets an agent or a book deal or an amazing review and, while I’m thrilled for them, I’m also indulging in a secret pity party.) Emotions Experienced: Terror, misgiving, mild insanity. Duration: Capable of breaking off the weak, but ushing through is imperative, otherwise I might never…

Find My StrideRunning: Miles six and seven, when I fall into the workout. This, for me, is the best part–when I feel like a real runner. Revising: When I find my groove and get into my zone, this is when I’m at my happiest and most productive. I somehow find a way to make my manuscript and my characters fit back together and it’s magical–I feel like a real writer!  Emotions Experienced: Acceptance, contentment, gratification. Duration: Until the final push.

Home StretchRunning: My home stretch is a long series of stairs that lead up  to my neighborhood, so yeah… It’s tough. But the end is in sight, so I always know I’ll make it. Revising: Plugging those final holes, checking for continuity, reassessing character arcs and word choices and sentence structure. Tedious, but totally doable. Emotions Experienced: Exhilaration, anticipation… There’s a light at the end of the tunnel! Duration: Right through to the end.

Victory! – Running: The cool down, the cold glass of water, the hot shower. Revising: The final read-through, and that spine-tingling excitement that comes with emailing a finished draft to CPs/betas/my agent. Emotions Experienced: Pride, delight, and nerves at getting to do it all over again sometime down the road. Duration: Until that next run, or that next revision.

Tell me: Do you experience similar highs and lows when revising? How do you deal? 

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33 responses to “Run/Revise

  1. I deal with everything you’ve discussed, but now I’m mentally tired after ‘running’ with you. I think I would have passed out on mile 2. 🙂 Actually, I find myself hanging out a lot in the “I’ll never finish” rut. At some point I just have to say ‘enough! move on!’. It’s so hard to do when you’re a perfectionist and you want every word perfect.

    • Yeah, that “I’ll Never Finish Rut” definitely has a way of dragging on and on. Too bad, because it can be so discouraging! And like you, I’m a perfectionist. I think that’s why it takes me so long to get going. I don’t want to dive in until I’ve got the bulk of the revision worked out in my head.

  2. I LOVE this analogy and I agree 100% with you! Running is really like revising 😀 Even if I have these stages with way less miles under my feet!
    And running in the morning is the best (and difficult but so rewarding…)
    I run with my hubby so it’s also time together even if all we do is being in our thoughts as our feet pound the road.
    Great post, Katy!

    • I like to run with my husband sometimes too, Elodie, though it doesn’t happen often because that means one of us has to push our five-year-old in the jogging stroller… Talk about an extra challenge! Thanks for commenting; it’s fun to see that others can relate to my crazy. 😉

  3. I feel these kinds of emotions too when running! In fact, I ran a cross-country meet Saturday.

  4. I never run much more than 2-3 miles, but this analogy is SO PERFECT. The emotions are spot on for running and writing, and maybe that’s why–in both cases–nothing feels quite as good as crossing the finish line. ❤

  5. I love this post…and this, totally agree: Emotions Experienced: Terror, misgiving, mild insanity

    Unfortunately, I can’t think about anything when I run (or do any work out) except the run. So while it’s a meditation for me, it’s more of a Miracle of Mindfulness thing. My aha moments come when driving in the car (sans music) or in the shower.

    I loved this post. 🙂

    • Thanks, Liz!

      Sometimes runs are purely of the meditation sort for me too, but I find that even those runs help me with my writing. They clear my head and help me focus when I sit down to work later. And I’m so glad I’m not the only who who’s dealt with a case of mild insanity. 😉

  6. Wow Katy, I loved this post! I have to admit I am actually not much of a runner, but seeing your beautiful analogy to writing gives me a false hope that maybe I could be 🙂 It is so encouraging to see you identify each step of the revising process because I think expectations are key, otherwise when faced wtih such a big ball of tangled emotions it is easy to be paralyzed. So it’s kind of neat to think of a marathon as not just one ending and one beginning, but lots of little endings, which also means that there isn’t just one light at the end of the tunnel, but many. I also (and this sounds totally weird saying this!!) liked your leg picture. The caption made me laugh out loud, because I have been so scared to use other images too, but am running out of good picture ideas! Thanks again for this beautiful post. I hope today is a great one for you 🙂

    • “…expectations are key, otherwise when faced wtih such a big ball of tangled emotions it is easy to be paralyzed.” <— Yes! Paralyzed is exactly how I feel sometimes, and the only thing that keeps me from giving up completely is the knowledge that discouragement and lack of motivation WILL PASS. And thanks for your kind words about the image I chose… This whole copyrighted picture thing totally freaks me out! Hope you have a wonderful day, Tem!

  7. I love this post! Beautiful job of explaining the running and writing relationship.
    Also–stairs at the home stretch of your run? Whoa. That’s hardcore!

  8. Alexandra Shostak

    Love this! I am the most un-athletic person like, ever, but I TOTALLY get it with the revising and feel the same way about almost every step. (I think my throes of agony last way longer than a mile or two, haha.)

    (Also, I can’t even run a SINGLE mile, so I am SOOO IMPRESSED that you can consistently run NINE MILES. If I ever do try to run, I make it around the block once and then give up.)

    • Thanks, Alexandra! I wasn’t a runner until fairly recently. Once I accomplished my first 5K, I kind of started to love it. Now, I feel awful when I take too much time off. And I really do think it makes my writing better!

  9. Great analogy Katy! I experience so many high’s and low’s while writing you’d think I was bipoloar LOL. I think it’s normal though, and this is such a perfect post for highlighting that:)

    • Thanks so much, Lindsay! I’m with you on the bipolar thing! One day I’m loving writing and my manuscript, and the next day it’s like pulling teeth and my manuscript is the absolute worst thing ever. It’s amazing we’re able to lead fairly normal lives away from our computers! 🙂

  10. I like this analogy and I can totally see it. I think I’m in the find my stride part right now, although I slip back from time to time to mile 5. I really need to get back to running.

  11. I definitely read this post this morning and didn’t comment, whoops, thought I did 🙂 I really like this analogy a lot. I was a runner in HS (did 5ks) co-captain of our x-country team 🙂 I’m rewriting my entire novel now it is crazy but I know in the long run it is for the best and it’s much stronger than before. If I could only see the finish line….much closer 😉 haha I’m only at mile 1 at this point :p

    • Rewrites are so freaking hard, as I learned this summer. I rewrote a manuscript I “finished” two years ago, and while I wanted to tear my hair out most of the time, I am so very happy with the way it come out in the end. Fingers crossed that it sees the light of day in the future! Good luck finishing your rewrite, Rachel!

  12. I love your marathon analogy. I’ve felt similar peaks and valleys while revising, particularly with my doorstopper-sized books. It’s exciting to edit, revise, polish, and rewrite at first, but after so many sweep-throughs, it can get a little exhausting. Even my much-shorter Atlantic City historicals can feel a little like a marathon, since many of them were written so long ago that there needs to be some radical surgery. Some of them are ringing proof that short books can be overwritten!

    I nominated you for a blog award: http://carrieannebrownian.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/one-lovely-blog-award/

  13. It’s funny you make this comparison. I made a list of things I wanted to do before I turned 30 and Run a Marathon and Write a Novel were both on the list. Guess which one I did first? I ran a freaking marathon before I managed to finish a novel. (Well, run is a very loose term. I generally tell people I “finished” a marathon, not that I “ran” a marathon, because there was definitely some walking happening.) Running isn’t as fun for me as it is for you, but for some reason that was EASIER for me than writing.

    BUT I’ve given up on the running and not on the writing, so I guess that’s good.

    • Definitely good!

      I don’t think I’ll ever do a full marathon… I don’t enjoy being uncomfortable, generally, and anything more than 15 miles stops being fun pretty quick. I’m in awe of your marathon completion… You rock!

  14. I totally understand all of these emotions when revising! And somewhat when running too (I’m a beginner so my jogs aren’t all that long). With my current revision, I think I’m at the “find my stride” phase, which is good! Hopefully very soon I’ll be at the home stretch. 🙂

  15. I can’t run (bad knees, and a gigantic stomach), but if I did, I’d be terrified I’d have a story/revision breakthrough idea, and then not having anything to write it on. I suppose I could just carry my smart phone, but that kind of ruins my excuse for not running.

    • I do have those breakthrough moments from time to time, Matt, and while they’re awesome, I’m like you in that I’m terrified that I’ll lose them before I get home. I’ve gotten fairly good at mentally logging ideas, but still…

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