Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Writing is like Riding

On Sunday Kyle and I did a local 100 mile bicycle ride. At some point during the loooong (but, yes, okay, ultimately rewarding) experience, I started thinking about how it was comparable to writing and ended up composing a blog entry in my head to distract myself from the whole riding-way-too-many-miles-on-sore-knees thing. Here goes.

Riding Advice for Writing

1. Make an Official/Public Commitment

Do I generally wake up on Sundays and decide it would be superfun to ride 100 miles? Umm, no. If I had made casual plans to ride 100 miles with Kyle, would I still have been up for it when I woke up tired with a raging headache Sunday morning? Probably not. 

But I’d already signed up for the ride, paid my entrance fee, and told other people that I was going to do it. So I dragged myself out of bed, took some Advil, and rode to the starting line. I didn’t even grumble about the four extra miles…much.   

It’s the same reason I signed up for Nanowrimo and even got up the courage to tell a few people that I was doing it. Public commitment + pretty bar charts = me doing a ton more writing than I would on my own. And if you’re looking for something less time-consuming and frantic, I just stumbled on  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge.  Bonus: neither of those events charges an entry fee.

2. Meet New People

Kyle will always be my favorite cycling companion, but we know each so well that sometimes there isn’t a ton to talk about on rides. “Did you see that cow/sheep/purple orangutan?” “Do you remember when we saw that other cow/sheep/purple orangutan on the trip?”

Riding with new people opens up a world of new conversations and perspectives. We were immensely lucky to run into two women from Portland while we were all waiting for the ride to start. Riding and talking with them made the miles go by much more quickly, and they invited us out to dinner with some people afterward, so suddenly we have four new awesome friends.

At this point I’ve only shown my writing to Kyle, but I know that soon I’ll need to add other critique partners, other perspectives. And after reading about other bloggers' amazing critique partnerships and friendships, I’m really excited about it. 

3. The First One is the Hardest

This was my first organized century ride, but I’d had some hundred mile days while bicycle touring. So I knew, at least theoretically, that I was capable of riding that far. And thank goodness, because I started to lose faith in myself on several of those long climbs; but having done it before, I couldn’t let myself give up this time. 

Thanks to Nanowrimo I’ve completed two novel-length drafts, so I know I can do that now, and it really does help. Unfortunately I still haven’t rewritten and polished a draft to a beautiful, beta-reader-ready sheen, but I’m working on it. And once I’ve accomplished it once, I hope it will build up my confidence to do it all again.

4. One Mile at a Time

Anyone who thinks about all 100 miles all the time Will. Go. Crazy. So I focused on 10 miles at a time, and when I really started to hurt I focused on 5 miles at a time. Or just 1. 

I keep telling myself to do the same thing with my writing. I mean it’s exhausting, thinking about everything you have to do to really finish a novel and revise (and revise and revise and revise) it to completion. Miles 40-70 of the ride were definitely the hardest, and not unlike being mired in the middle of a messy plot. But I know I just need to breathe and do one thing at a time. One rewritten scene at a time. One line revision at a time. One word at a time. 

Take Some Breaks…

It’s impossible to make it through without breaks. I lived for those little tents full of Gatorade and snacks, especially since they meant I could get off the bike. It’s no good biking or writing nonstop if you’re going to burn out. 

…Then Get Back to Work

Just be warned: the longer your break, the harder it is to get back on the bike, literal or proverbial. Your muscles stiffen up, your joints get all creaky, and your brain forgets why you ever wanted to anything but lounge on the grass and eat your weight in watermelon, peanut butter, and Oreos. And when you finally get back on the bike, the first few pedal strokes are awkward and painful, like you’ve never ridden a bike before. 

The same thing goes for writing, as I’ve learned too many times. It’s important to keep writing streaks going, because the longer you’re away from your story, the harder it is to get back into it smoothly.
Most importantly: PIE!

The ride ended with free blackberry pie and ice cream. It was pretty much the reason I signed up, honestly. (What? I’m not a baker, and ice cream is really overpriced in Oregon for some reason.) It was delicious and totally worth it. I might start demanding pie and ice cream as my standard reward for a job well done. 

So when you reach an important writing goal, remember to reward yourself. 

Preferably with pie. 


  1. The analogy of completing 100 miles on a bike to composing 100 pages on a computer (admittedly, my parallelism is shoved into shape)is so true. The way you approached the dichotomy of cerebral and physical is interesting as well. Many writers have detailed how they use some sort of exercise to force their way through writer's block. Agatha Christie would garden. Louise Penny goes for a long walk with her dog Trudy. Hemingway lifted glasses. I cook or bake-which actually negates the exercise value of the activity. You turned that on its head, using writing to push through an exercise block. "I started thinking about how it was comparable to writing and ended up composing a blog entry in my head to distract myself from the whole riding-way-too-many-miles-on-sore-knees thing." bravo.

  2. Well thanks :-)

    Sadly I can rarely brainstorm while exercising seriously -- whenever I try to run and think about writing, my brain just repeats phrases in the rhythm of my running and can't get anywhere productive. Walking around the room occasionally helps though.

    The comment about Hemingway lifting glasses is hilarious, especially since I recently read an old interview where he denied drinking heavily while writing. "You're thinking of Faulkner" was part of his response, which made my day.