7 Ways Writing a Book is Like Doing an Ultra

Running can hurt, sometimes excruciatingly so. But if you think running is painful, try writing a book.

I’ve completed hundreds of marathons and ultramarathons, but finishing just four books has taken more than a decade. As I put the final touches on my latest work—The Road to Sparta —I’m reminded that it’s been a four-year ultramarathon to reach this point.

There are many parallels between writing and long-distance running. This latest book is a Greek epic about the Battle of Marathon and the ancient Athenian runner, Pheidippides. Since I am now at the end of another long writing journey, it seems like a good time to reflect on the common similarities of putting words on the pages and taking the steps necessary for an ultra.

Just as every great journey starts with a single step, every great book starts with a single word. It’s continuing onward for the next 78,735 steps/words that presents a challenge.

There’s physical pain in both activities. With running, it’s typically blisters and muscle cramps. With writing, it’s carpal tunnel, temporary screen-blindness, and uncontrollable back spasms.

Just as Thomas Edison remarked about genius, both running and writing involve 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.

Some days you hit your stride and feel like nothing can stop you, as though you can soar to the sky. But some days you get too close to the sun and your wings melt, sending you crashing to the earth like Icarus.

In running, your nipples can bleed. In writing, you stare at a blank screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.

Crossing the finish line—or submitting on deadline—makes all the struggles and hard work worthwhile.

Still, as agonising as the process has been, your performance had better not have fallen short. Because while pain is temporary, online race results and poor Amazon rankings last forever.

At least with running you get a medal placed around your neck once you reach the finish line. The author’s reward for finishing? A promotional tour, which in literary circles is jokingly said to be the punishment for writing the book.

I guess things could be worse. I could be one of the poor copy editors who must sift through my original manuscripts. Now that involves some real pain!

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