March 1, 2013

Slow Writing, Slow Running: the Benefits of Stepping out of The Fast Lane


For the last two months, I've been a runner.  Well, not really. For the last two months, I've been doing a Couch to 5k program, which means that I'm sometimes running, but more often walking.  In fact, out of the total work out time, I probably run only about a quarter of the time and walk the rest.  And yet, from this near-daily practice, I can feel my legs getting stronger, I can run progressively faster and further distances, and I'm noticing a distinct difference in my body shape and body fat percentage.  I wouldn't say I would be ready to run a marathon any time soon, but that 5k is looking more and more likely, and I'm even starting to consider what it would be like to work up to a 10k afterwards.
I've often heard the act of writing a dissertation or any book-length manuscript compared to running a marathon.  "It's a marathon, not a sprint," we writing coaches will say, and there's some truth to that.  Like marathon runners, those working on long projects of any kind have to learn to pace themselves, and have to build up over time to the final "race."  And like anyone who is just starting out with running, academics can't just jump in and write an article or a thirty-paged chapter in a night.   Even if you're physically capable of that, it probably won't be the best way to work, for either your body or your mind.

At Academic Ladder, we emphasize the importance of a near-daily writing habit, and the importance of breaking down writing goals into small, actionable steps.  Like the Couch to 5k program that I've been doing, we emphasize starting where you are and working up to where you want to be.   And as with any fitness program, mental or physical, the small steps that we take each day will accumulate, little by little, until that grant proposal is written, that dissertation gets drafted, that article gets restructured and revised.

I don't know if I'll ever sign up for an official 5k or 10k "race."  With all the progress I'm making lately, I'm beginning to think I can.  But even if I don't, I'm not going to stop running.  It's in me now, the running habit, and I don't want to lose it, much the way I don't want to lose my writing practice.  What about you?  What habits do you want to cultivate?   What part of your writing practice can you do so regularly that it becomes part of you?  

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