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Training to Write Your Book

By J. Greg Phelan

August 11, 2022

In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami presents a strong case for why you need to train to be a writer. Not by honing your craft—though that’s essential, too. He believes sustained physical exercise is critical to him being a writer. That’s why Murakami became a long-distance runner.

When I first read his argument, my mind was blown. He’s right! Writing a novel (or memoir) is hard! It requires hours every day sitting at a computer, maintaining intense mental focus to develop a complicated narrative, over months and years. You need stamina, both mental and physical. You also need to be optimistic enough to put your doubts aside and make your daily word count.

I ran a marathon years ago. I know long-distance running is great for overall fitness and stamina. The endorphin high relaxes you and boosts your mood. Doubts recede, freeing up your creativity. But I’ve found I don’t need to run marathons to get these benefits. Four days a week I head to the woods and run two miles, followed by a two-mile hike. Often, about a mile in, new ideas come, often solving problems I’ve been turning over. On the off days, I swim for 30 minutes or bike for an hour. And I walk every chance I get. Taking calls whenever I can while in motion. For me, the key is to keep moving when I’m not typing. So when I do sit down, I’m ready to write.

J. Greg Phelan has written for The New York Times, America, and other publications. He is the co-founder and board chair of Project Write Now, a nonprofit writing center providing classes and outreach for writers of all ages. In 2020, he launched book inc, a community for memoir and novel writers.