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Why is endurance training a good model for writers?

Endurance athlete running on a backroad

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

“Writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensibility.” — Haruki Murakami

Imagine three runners lined up at the start of a marathon—a foot race of 26.2 miles. The first runner is highly conditioned and has faithfully followed a proper training program for months in preparation for the race. The second is in decent shape, and leads an active lifestyle that includes a fair amount of regular, physical exercise, but has not systematically trained to prepare for the race. The third runner is completely deconditioned, out of shape, and leads a sedentary lifestyle.

Which runner is most likely to finish the race?

The answer, of course, is the first. In this scenario, it’s pretty obvious that the runner who has followed a proper training program will have the highest chance of success in finishing a grueling marathon.

The second runner may or may not finish, but his chances for success are significantly lower, and his chances for failure significantly greater, than they are for the highly conditioned runner. And even if she finishes, she is likely to take far longer and experience dramatically higher levels of pain and suffering in the process.

The third runner has virtually no chance of finishing the race. He is likely to get no farther than a mile or two before dropping out, completely overwhelmed, worn out, and defeated by the effort. Even if he decides to walk, he is not likely to go farther than a few miles.

Writing a book is like running a marathon: crossing the finish line—that is, actually completing a manuscript—typically requires months (if not years) of systematic, focused, and disciplined effort.

Yet many people who want to write a book line up at the starting line like the third runner: they’re creatively deconditioned, completely unprepared to follow through, and so they may go through the motions for a while, but they are likely to drop out as soon as the going gets rough.

Those like the second runner are a bit better prepared perhaps, but even if they are able to finish, it is likely to be a far more difficult process than it has to be.

If you want to write a book and are like the second or third runner, you must condition your creative mind as the endurance athlete conditions her body. The principles and strategies used by endurance athletes—both elite professionals and everyday amateurs—to train for events like marathons and triathlons are designed to promote the physiological adaptations necessary for the body to perform over long distances.

The body can’t not adapt and improve its capacity in response to the proper training stimuli. Even if a would-be marathoner starts from a completely deconditioned physical state, if he is consistent in following a well-designed training program—one that starts slow and builds on his progress over time—his success in crossing the finish line is virtually guaranteed.

In the same way, endurance-training principles and strategies, when properly applied to the writing process, will promote the creative adaptations necessary to finish your book. Consistently following a well-designed writing program, and building on your progress over time, virtually guarantees that you will complete your book or other writing project. Like the body, the creative mind can’t not adapt and improve its capacity to perform in response to the proper training stimuli.

Take a closer look at the similarities between physical endurance training and the writing process:

Both activities are geared toward the achievement of a long-term goal. For athletes, it's crossing the finish line of a long-distance event. For writers, it's crossing the finish line of a book or other long-term creative project.

Both require focused, disciplined, consistent effort over weeks, months, or even years. To accomplish their respective goals, endurance athletes and writers alike must sustain their commitment over time.

Both require the development of mental and physical energetic resources. It's extremely unlikely that a deconditioned runner could successfully complete a marathon. The same is true of a writer with a deconditioned creative mind.

Both offer a pathway to devising a highly individualized program and outcome based on relatively few principles common to all participants--and both programs can be scaled to suit each individual’s objective.

If, for example, you are an aspiring Olympic athlete working to qualify for the USA team every four years, you are going to follow a very different training regimen than an amateur athlete who wants to go from the couch to completing her first 5K run. Yet each utilize similar techniques and strategies over different time frames to achieve their goals.

Similarly, someone who wants to write a long historical novel with multiple characters and complex plotlines is going to follow a different regimen than someone who wants to write a short children’s book. Yet both will use essentially the same tools, techniques, and strategies to accomplish their goals.

Finally, both activities must oftentimes be pursued while maintaining focus on the other aspects of one’s life that require consistent attention, including family responsibilities and work obligations. That means that prospective athletes and prospective writers alike tend to fall back on the same excuse for not following through on their goals: there's not enough time.

Effective time management is useful. But the athlete knows that energy management is a priority. She knows that once physical training is integrated into her life, she will have greater overall energy and therefore greater productivity in every life domain. For the writer, too, energy management is essential.

ChiWriting is designed to do for writers what endurance training does for athletes--using the same principles, strategies, and techniques. It offers a unique and practical process for developing the energetic resources (the "chi" in ChiWriting) you need to condition your creative mind, make consistent progress on the page while still meeting obligations in other life domains, and, like an athlete, cross the finish line of your book.

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