Friday, 13 January 2017

How Running Helped My Writing by Sophie Claire

Remember the post I wrote here on filling up your creative well? Well, last summer I followed my own advice (no.2) and set myself the challenge to get fit. Why? I’d put on a bit of weight. Not much, but enough that my clothes didn’t fit any more and I didn’t feel good about myself.

‘You could eat less cake,’ my husband suggested. (Anyone who follows me on Instagram will understand what a dangerous suggestion that was!) 

How bleak would life be without cake? 

No, I decided, I would simply exercise more.

So I joined a gym.

One night I was telling my son how hard I found the treadmill – I could only run for two minutes before feeling like I was going to die. It was no surprise – I’ve had asthma since I was a teenager and I’ve never been able to run without struggling for breath. ‘You need to run slower,’ my son said, with the matter-of-fact wisdom of a fourteen year old who has asthma himself, but has always been a keen sportsman. ‘Imagine you’re setting off on a marathon and you’ve got to keep up that pace for several hours.’

I tried it.

I felt self-conscious running so slowly I was practically walking, but it worked. I ran for six minutes without stopping. It sounds like nothing, but I’d been trying and failing for weeks – for me, this was a breakthrough. I worried it might have been a one-off, so I tried it again and ran ten minutes, twenty, then forty! And the sense of achievement – to have done something I’d always found impossible – was enormous.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. One day I limped home dejected because I’d been so tired I’d had to walk most of the way. ‘Don’t worry,’ said my husband (who runs marathons); ‘We all have off days.’

Now I look forward to running (never thought I’d type those words!) It’s the fastest way I know to burn calories so it doesn’t cut into my writing time too much, and afterwards I’m positively glowing with pride. 

So how does that affect my writing?
  • Well, for starters, that sense of achievement has been good for my confidence. Most writers would agree that writing is a challenging occupation. It can be difficult to find time to write when you’re juggling a career or family commitments; there are days when inspiration doesn’t come readily and writing is a slog; it can be dispiriting to receive rejections from agents, publishers or readers in the form of bad reviews. But if you can crack one challenge, it sets a precedent in your mind. You’re less likely to accept defeat, more likely to think, ‘I can do this’. 

  • Just do it. This is the attitude I take to running: my focus is on getting it done rather than running fast or far. And most days I’m pleasantly surprised by the results. So it is with writing: whether I write anything good or not is frankly beyond my control so I simply make sure I show up and write something. Anything.

  • Good habits yield results. Like keeping fit, the habit of writing every day builds the writing muscle, and the cumulative effect is huge. Write 500 words every day and you’ll have a first draft (75,000 words) in 5 months.

  • Getting fit has helped me feel healthier and brighter. My concentration is better, I feel more positive and I know I’m more efficient because I get my work done faster.

  • And finally, running gives me thinking time. Some days my mind is immersed in my fictional world and I take the opportunity to mull over ideas or new scenes. Other days I switch off and simply observe the landscape around me, the changing seasons, the light, the sounds, people in the street and the little snapshots I get of their lives as I pass them. (You don’t need to run to enjoy this; a daily walk would bring all these benefits too).

 But, best of all? I get to still have my cake and eat it. 

What helps your writing? I’d love to hear about your experiences…



  1. Great post, Sophie! I used to do a lot of running on the treadmill, but these days I do yoga and pilates, which help me in a similar way-without the thinking time, although mind is cleared post yoga. Must get back to classes post-Christmas soon...

  2. I need both exercise and writing in my day to keep me on an even keel. I also enjoy knitting, and that helps me with my writing as well. Well, and cake, too!

    1. HI Nadine, yes I know a few writers who knit. I can imagine it gives you great thinking time. As you say, it's all about keeping balance in your life.

  3. Hello, I'm also a cake lover, and I have the hips to prove it! Loved your comment 'How bleak would life be without cake?'
    I have a friend who took up running and he has seen good weight loss, like you he is a slow runner, but has completed three London marathons and several half marathons.
    I have asthma, so can completely identify with what you are saying, I've not been exercising much other than doing Nordic walking, pilates and stretch classes recently as I've had a horrendous ear infection. However, all of those types of exercise help my writing as I use the time to either think scenes through, or I listen to podcasts about writing.

    I know it's not exercise, but I'm about to start doing jigsaws, as another writer swears by them for relaxing the brain, and freeing up thoughts.

    Also helpful though, is a pot of tea, a slab of decent cake, and a natter with a good writing buddy. I suppose you could always run home afterwards?

    Good post, thank you for sharing.


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