Monday, March 11, 2013

On Writing: A Comparison to the Marathon Part 2 of 3


My marathon is this coming Saturday.  Like, in 5 days.  I'm freaking out.  Just thought you'd like an update.

Me. Right now.
But, to continue the thread from last post, I'd like to further compare marathon training to writing.  There is a concept in long distance running called over-training.  Over-training happens when an athlete doesn't allow enough recovery time between running days.  The body responds in insidious ways, such as decreased performance, constant muscle fatigue, crabbiness, and even athletic regression.  Curiously enough, different people experience over-training in different ways and there's not one good field test to confirm that yes, you're suffering from over-training. 

I started to experience over-training about a month and a half ago.  We were about 7 weeks out from race date (March 16, by the way) and I couldn't keep up with the group.  Then I couldn't make it up the hills.  Then my legs were on fire.  Constantly.  And I was wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

After entering the mandatory internet search to self-diagnose my problems, article after article listed my symptoms as over-training. Turns out the best thing to do for over-training is to NOT TRAIN.  So I took a week off. 

I dare to compare some parts of the writing process to the concept of over-training.  Not that you could ever write too much and drain your ability to produce verbiage (as if we were all giant metal tanks of words that, when empty, well, you were empty), but that when mired deep in a particular project, you may feel yourself losing your way or unable to keep up with your previous creative fire.  

When I write anything really over 2,000 words, I go through a love-hate-love cycle.  At first, I LOVE the idea - I am a writing genius!  Every word is pure gold!  Then, I get stuck in the drudgery of actually finishing the piece, and editing.  And I HATE it.  It's crap.  All of it.  This part doesn't make sense, a 5 year old could write that paragraph better - hell, my dog could write it better.  This part of the process, to me, is sometimes like over-training.  This part makes me crabby and makes me feel like I've regressed as a writer.  It's about being too critical of a first draft and sometimes even too negative when it comes to the purity of the creative process.  It's a dangerous place and like over-training, if not recognized and dealt with properly, can lead to serious damage. 

If you're an athlete and ignore the signs of over-training, a few things could happen.  You could get injured.  Also, you could burn out.  Most cataclysmic of all, both of these things could happen at the same time.  If you're a writer in this hate phase, you could listen to your inner demons and quit. And quitting is the worst thing a writer can do.  Well, except for plagiarism.  That's probably worse. 

But, like getting out of over-training, finding your way out of the hate phase comes down to taking some time away, at least for me.  Even a day's break from a project to let it "set" helps me come back with fresh eyes, eyes that aren't so critical as they were the day before.  And what's nice is that after that hate phase, there's another love phase.  After a break, I sometimes come back to a project and think: wow!  That's not too bad! Or at least not as bad as I first thought!  And that's a much better place to be. 
Cheesy ending, folks. Deal with it.
So, what I'm trying to say, and remind myself of, is that writing, like running, can be hard, but working through the tough bits to the finish is rewarding in the end.  I'll be trying to remember these very words on Saturday, as I'm around Mile 19 of the marathon.  I'll let you know how it goes.

PS: don't despair.  After this stupid marathon, it's back to more vet stuff, I promise.

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