What I Learned About Running at a Writer’s Retreat

“When running, the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain.” – Joyce Carol Oates

Cabin in the woods at the Rowe Center in northwestern Massachusetts where fellow-runners/writers confirmed that running nurtures the writing process.

Cabin in the woods at the Rowe Center in northwestern Massachusetts where fellow-runners/writers confided that running nurtures their writing process.

Distance runners refer to the final stage of marathon training as tapering because it is the phase they cut back on rigorous exercise to allow their body to recover. As I taper for my first triathlon in less than two weeks, I’ve come up with a new strategy—retreat. Rather than spend the final weekend on foot, in the saddle of my bike or stroking through the water, I spent it on my butt with a pen in my hand scribbling at writer’s retreat hosted by The Sun, an unlikely place to reinforce my longstanding hypothesis that running nurtures the creative process of writing.

The humble abode where I pondered writing and running in preparation for my first triathlon.

Cloistered in a humble abode, I pondered the writing and running connection.

Among the nearly one hundred writers who attended, there were a few runners. We runners somehow seem to seek one another out, either inadvertently or on the trail; this time it was inadvertently on all accounts. During the course of the weekend, I posed some variation of the following question to each of them: “Do you find that running helps your writing?”

In each case, the writer/runner enthusiastically said that running was an essential part of their writing process. One said that running enables her to access her bigger self, meaning to expand beyond the confines of her conventional thinking and open up to new and broader ideas. Another told me that many times when she is stuck on a scene or needs inspiration for a story, she hits the trail and finds that inspiration. When I asked the question the other writer, an author of several books and faculty member, his eyes lit up and he said, “Oh yes,” as if I’d asked him if the sun really does rise in the east each morning. He told me he runs seven to eight miles each day, and that, invariably, it is during the run when creativity happens, where he solves scenes, creates characters, or gets ideas for stories.

Runner - SketchI described to him that running breaks up the logjam in my brain when I’m stuck, the dreaded writer’s block, which generated an exchange of stories about the times on the trail when dialogue for a character evolved, or the solution for a story unfolded. On the topic of being stuck, prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates, author of more than forty novels, says, “The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon.”

According to Oates, “Writers and poets are famous for loving to be in motion. If not running, hiking; if not hiking, walking.” Most writers agree that writing doesn’t always happen at the computer or with pen in hand, but while their body is in motion. Runners may be partial to running, but writing happens during other activities as well, such as gardening, cooking, painting, or just plain old playing.Quill & Ink

In a 1999 Writers on Writing interview with the New York Times , Oates concludes, “the twin activities of running and writing keep the writer reasonably sane and with the hope, however illusory and temporary, of control.” Click here for the full New York Times Writers on Writing interview with Joyce Carol OatesQuill-Pen Mini


About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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3 Responses to What I Learned About Running at a Writer’s Retreat

  1. Sophie33 says:

    It looks like a great lovely, cozy cabin! A lovely read too, Jim!


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