The Art of Being a Real Runner (and Writer)

Real Runners

A Real Runner

I was running this morning. I was about 25 minutes in and just a few from stopping when I saw another woman running. She nodded as she passed, according to some kind of universal, unspoken runners’ etiquette. I nodded back. And here is the thought that flashed through my mind, as quick as my breath: “She is a real runner.”

I had the thought that she was a real runner WHILE I WAS RUNNING.

The comparison was so instantaneous as to be unconscious, until that moment when a thought bubbled up and surprised me. My next thought was even less eloquent: WTF, Jena? 

Was it because she was running faster? Wearing more official-looking running clothes? In that split second, I totally dissed myself based on assumptions and judgments — the former about her and the latter of myself. Hell, for all I know, she thought the same thing about me! See how silly it all gets?

I didn’t think much more of it until just now, when it suddenly occurred to me that this is exactly what many people do with regards to writing (and no doubt a lot of other things). Oh, SHE is a “real writer.” You know, the one with the published pieces, or the book, the prizes, the room of her own, the agent — whatever. Really the reason is not the point. The point is that this kind of crazy shit is what keeps us from having to deal with our own capacity to create. Comparing, in a sense, is lazy.

Lace up sneakers and step outside your door and run to the corner. Do it again tomorrow. Maybe even the next day. Take a day off, or three. Try a different route. Hit a trail. Meet a friend. Get new sneakers. What you’re wearing doesn’t matter. Unless you’re in it to win it — and lord knows I’m certainly not — your time doesn’t matter. Look at you go. You rock.

You are a runner. A real runner.

Pick up a pen, write a word, then another. Repeat often. Use a timer or set a minimum word count if that helps. Start small — 10 minutes. 300 words. Yay, you. Where you write doesn’t matter. What you write doesn’t even matter — the stories are within you, whether based on memory, imagination, or some ineffable blend of the two. And even if you secretly hope to win a Pulitzer, whether anyone thinks your writing is any good doesn’t matter.

You are a writer. A real writer.

“Writers write.” – Billy Crystal (as Larry Donner), Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

So, what does matter?

What matters is that you show up and pound the pavement and pound the keyboard. What matters is YOUR sweat. Your tears, because sometimes there will be tears. What matters is what you tell yourself. And most of all, what you actually DO.

 Redo: She was a real runner. I was also a real runner.

This is where it gets really fun: We both get to be real, and we both get to be runners.

Same goes for writing. Sure, there are a million ways to barricade ourselves inside false beliefs about what is and isn’t possible and what counts as “real.” Sometimes, limitations are real and not imagined; not everything can be overcome. You might not be able to run, you may have no desire to run, and you may even hate running.

And what of writing? If you want to write, there are probably not many actual things standing in your way.

No wonder the writers I most respect and admire all say one common thing: You must write everyday, or at least most of them.

If you only write sporadically, there is a strong possibility you will never feel like a “real writer.” But if you believe your life isn’t interesting enough, think again. If you believe no one will ever take you seriously as a writer, start with taking yourself seriously. Then find one person, just a single person in your actual life, with whom to share your words.

Running buddies, writing buddies. It really works, to be accountable and cheered on, no matter how slow you go, no matter how messy you look, no matter whether you walk the whole way home. What better way, in the end, could there be to get there?

Whether it’s running, writing, or with something else, where do you discount yourself and what’s one step you could take to change that? I’d love to hear from you if you’re so inclined to leave a comment! Just one request: Keep it real. 

27 thoughts on “The Art of Being a Real Runner (and Writer)

    • Jena Schwartz says:

      She just told me that and I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me!
      p.s. I’ve always thought of you as a Real Runner AND a Real Writer — you inspire me on both fronts.


  1. mblaylock4 says:

    This is so true. It’s kind of like me and yoga. I always look around the room and think, wow – they’re such yoga badasses, but I show up every week, too, so can’t I be a yoga badass with them? Of course, if I could do crow position I would be totally badass, but this ain’t one of my fantasy novels, this is real life. I think my journey with poetry has been quite similar. Thanks to you, my lovely friend, these days I think I’m kind of a poetic badass. xx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Gail says:

    Maybe because I am 55 and what I do for a living, I don’t discount myself a lot. The one area I will sometimes be self deprecating is cooking. But then I cook, so I am a cook, non? I haven’t killed anyone yet from my food, so…win!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. traceysullivan says:

    Out running this morning I thought … its easy to look like a hero when you are running on flat, wet sand with a tail wind and sky to match your eyes …

    some days its just not like that, but you move your pen across the paper anyway …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. caramckee says:

    So I don’t feel like I’m a proper writer because I’m not published. I’m not a proper poet because I can’t speak my poems from memory. I’m not a proper writer because I give away some work for free on my blog. But then I remind myself that Neil Gaiman, who is one of the most writerly writers I know, was once unpublished, some of his poetry is decidedly ropey (sorry Neil), and he shares his work (and that’s why I think of him), and I decide I am a proper writer. And I know he started younger than me, and that lots of people will think I’m a ‘hobby writer’ because I also look after my children (but somehow think he’s a hero for sorting beside his sleeping baby while he writes), but I didn’t feel allowed to write when I was younger. I was supposed to do maths and research and be clever. I still do that stuff, but now I’m also happier, because even though I’m just a fledgling, I’m a fledgling writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Lonna Hill says:

    Thank you so much! I wish I could “like” this a hundred times. I am a writer and a runner. But I have these same feelings you talk about. I am a runner because I get out there and run. I won’t be winning any races any time soon, but I get out there and do it.

    The funny thing is, I don’t have any problem telling other people that I am a runner, and I never get embarrassed to say that I’ve never won any races. And yet I am usually too embarrassed to tell anyone that I am a writer. Why is that? What you say makes sense. I do write almost every day. I write pieces for my blog, but I also pour over fiction pieces I’ve been working on. But I haven’t published anything besides my blog pieces–and those are only on my own blog.

    I never fear the question about running: “What races have you won?” I can answer without any qualms whatsoever, “Oh, I’m way to slow to actually win anything.”

    But I always fear the question about writing: “Oh, you write? That’s great? Have you published anything?” “No, I haven’t. But writing is such a lifeline for me. I write because I have to. One day, I hope I’ll get published.”

    The second one just doesn’t make sense to so many people. And it makes me feel vulnerable. So often I feel like writing is my dirty little secret. I write in the morning while my preschooler is at school. I think the other moms must think I’m boring or don’t have any friends or that I’m antisocial and don’t want to hang out with them. That’s not it. It’s just that I can’t bring myself to tell them that rather than go have coffee every morning or got get my nails done, I’d rather sit in anguish at the computer deciding if the metaphor actually works for what I’m trying to say. I’m too embarrassed to say that I’m trying really hard and pulling out my hair to create something that might never be published. I don’t even understand it myself sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jenhop says:

    Last night, while reading a wonderful memoir about a successful man with Asperger’s, this theme came leaping out from his mind into mine: for most of his adult life, he was afraid that people would discover that he was a “fake.” That none of his accomplishments were valid, because of social awkwardness he dropped out of high school and did not go to college. Because of his incredible Aspergian gifts, he grew up to design smoking guitars for KISS in the seventies, and ended up being on top of the corporate ladder in electronics. Once, he was offered a job with Lucasfilm, and he turned it down because he was afraid of being discovered as a fake. So I thought, I haven’t been writing regularly in my life because of this same fear. Because for some reason I feel like I need the validation, even though I have been to college and completed my degree, even though I have been independently studying and practicing and giving myself room in a busy life to write. Does anyone reading a wonderful article with emotional truth or interesting thoughts wonder about the writer’s background? No, they simply enjoy. And this means, let’s just keep on writing!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Tricia says:

    Perfection. I didn’t start calling myself a writer until I got a job with that as the title and other people started calling me a writer. Which is just plain silly. We are what we do, after all. <3

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Juana says:

    I do this with dancing! And with parenting. And with healing work.

    I don’t do it with writing, though, which is interesting and ironic, since I do with everything else. Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dana says:

    Oh, yes, Jena. Love this. And I think it’s true about writing as frequently as you can to help one feel “real.” I used to shy away from the adage, “write every day!” because it’s so easy to fail, but I think trying to write almost every day is helpful for practice, personal authenticity, and also for contentment. I need to write almost daily, though there have been seasons of my life (new babies) when I haven’t been able to. But I’ve always come back.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. wandersofayogi says:

    Thank you ! I am what you would call a “real runner” just because I’ve been running for so long but not for any fancy clothes or watches. I run for myself, because I feel present and fully connected with life and the environment, because I see what I wouldn’t look at if I was just passing by. Because it feels amazing. I one day also was a beginner that would put my eyes down when crossing the way of some other runners – fearing judgment – I knew I was looking like a total beginner. Anyway, nowadays I always smile at “beginners” when I run passed them, they need the support of runners to keep going. It’s tough in the beginning. As long as writing is concerned, my first language is french so expressing myself in english is a challenge and I know that I am a “beginner writer” somehow fearing other “real writer”‘s judgement and I found in your article the smile and support that says: keep going. So thank you for that :)

    Liked by 1 person


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