5 Ways to Train for Creative Work Like an Athlete
Want to write that novel? Approach it like a marathon.
I used to think my two passions — writing and rowing — used fundamentally different parts of my brain. In rowing, I found a certainty I cherished: the clarity of the stopwatch, the feedback of the coach, the gratification as my rowing improved. Writing, on the other hand, was all about delay, mystery, subjectivity.
So for a long time, I used my sport as a way to hedge my bets. I could be a better, more successful writer, I’d tell myself, but I was too busy on the water. I could be making more progress on my novel, but, you know, instead, I was busy using that time to improve my aerobic capacity.
Then one night, faced with a rejection letter that hit me hard, I decided it was time to cut my losses, put my energy elsewhere, and quit writing altogether. I got my backyard ready to make a cathartic bonfire of my manuscripts. (You laugh, but I Googled the permitting for fires at that time of year and had my equipment ready.) But as I was combing my house for more papers to add to the pile in my arms, I finally realized why I’d been so willing to let writing fall by the wayside. Even though what I wanted most was to be a successful writer, I was so afraid to fail that I had never really, fully tried.
The choice I’d set up for myself between my two passions — writing versus rowing — was a false one. It was an excuse. My love of sport didn’t have to be the enemy of my creative life. I had room for both — in fact, they enhanced each other in ways I’d never considered, something that I understood more fully in the following days each time I got out on the water. Every time I went for a row, I was learning valuable lessons about creativity. Since that fateful day, I’ve transformed writing to a profession: I finally finished that novel, which became a bestseller, and I now teach these very lessons to my writing students.
Lesson 1: Embrace discomfort
Once, in the middle of a rowing sprint workout, I asked our coach why one teammate in particular kept beating me, when we agreed that I was stronger and had better technique. “You’re too chicken,” the coach said.