Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing Lessons from a Long Bicycle Ride

Photo by Susan Mark
Post by Susan

I had a wonderful day Sunday at the 2013 Cheyenne Lions Ride for Site. A perfect, amazing, glorious day -- 52 miles on the bicycle. Why yes, I AM bragging. So what does this have to do with writing? Looking at why I had such a good day, there were a few lessons for word work:

  1. I prepared -- I didn't go from zero to 50 without a few 20- and 30-milers. If I don't practice writing, I'm not going to able to succeed. Journaling and exercises all help me build up to longer and better work.
  2. I showed up --Sunday morning, I had little energy and wasn't entirely sure I had a long ride in me. Despite that, I showed up. If I don't show up to write, nothing will happen. When I make space for writing, it happens.
  3. I lowered my expectations -- I didn't engage in fantasies of riding the entire 100-mile course. I decided to do what I could do. When I write, if I think everything must be brilliant and perfect, I stop myself from doing as much as I can, because I get caught up in what I aspire to. The poet William Stafford was known for telling his students, "lower your standards and keep going." I just kept going.
  4. I trusted the process -- last year on the same ride, I had a horrible day because I got caught up in the outcome -- how many miles would I ride? I didn't pay enough attention to the mechanics of getting there. When I focused on a smooth cadence and a steady pace, the miles unfolded without misery. When I write, I need to focus on the process -- how to tell the story, what precise word do I need here, what I should cut. If I write while simultaneously fantasizing about publishing, it doesn't work.
  5. I fed myself -- I've bonked once or twice on long rides: collapsed on the ground, shaking and conversing with imaginary people. The surest route to bonking is to not eat enough. As writers, we need to do what "feeds" us outside of writing, whether it's time in nature, in the garden or with family. We need to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. Sure, on a big deadline we can push it, but we can't push it forever.
And the best lesson? When you do it right -- cycling or riding -- it feels like flying. That makes it all worth it.

What writing lessons do you get from other activities in your life? Which of these here resonate with you?

And ... who wants to go with me on the Ride for Sight next year!


Lynn said...

Prepare, show up, lower your expectations, trust the process, feed yourself. Wow - that says it all! Great list! They all resonate with me.

I have this mantra that I've carried with me for a long time now: learn to write; write to learn. To me, it speaks to the connection between living and writing. Inseparable really.

I'm pretty driven in my writing life, but bicycling? I'm a wimp. No way around it. But I'm really proud of YOU for making those 52 miles :)

Anonymous said...


I like the learn-write, write-learn one. Speaks to why writing is such a fulfilling activity. It gives us a chance to indulge our innate curiosity and to really hone our craft.

Anonymous said...

One thing I've learned is that writing, like exercise, is only beneficial if it's something you want to do. An exercise program won't work if you can't get motivated to do it on a regular basis. If you're writing something you have to write, and it's not something you want to write, it's hard to get into that as well.

I participate in water exercise classes at the YMCA three days a week. On the days I don't go to the Y, I take walks. When the weather's bad, I use my treadmill. That's pretty boring because I see the same old scene outside my window while I'm walking, but if I have a good book to listen to, I can usually stay with it for forty-five minutes if time allows. Because I enjoy these activities, I'm motivated to do them on a regular basis.

Since January, I've been working on a memoir about my six years of experience caring for my husband, totally blind and partially paralyzed as a result of two strokes. I have to distance myself once in a while because of its personal nature. This week was one of those weeks so I decided to focus on poetry instead. Because I told myself I didn't have to write the next chapter of my memoir today, I was only too glad to go to my computer and do something else.

If I lived in Cheyenne, I'd love to go bike riding with you if we could use a tandem. Because of my visual impairment, it wouldn't be a good idea to steer my own bike. Happy riding and writing.

Anonymous said...

I've never ridden a tandem, so I'm not sure you'd want to get on one with me! But it sounds like fun. I saw more than one person with visual impairment in the parking lot decked out in bike shorts, so I'm guessing that's what they were doing.

The "want to" is critical. You are so correct on that. There is no way I would work that hard if it were not something I wanted to do. As they say, you can't push a rope.

Deborah Nielsen said...

Those five steps can be applied to a lot of different areas of your life.

For me, bicycling is strictly an across town venture. Which I use to keep in shape so I can ride the motorized kind of two-wheeler. Kudos for tackling the long ride. Riding motorcycles feeds the writer in me. As well as my sense of adventure.

Does the Ride for Sight need any help from a motorcyclist? Or sag wagons?

Anonymous said...

They use plenty of volunteers, Deborah. You could always contact the Lions!

I'm sure riding the motorcycle is just a hoot. So glad you enjoy it and that it's one of the things that "feed" you.

Ramakant Pradhan said...

I will those are life lessons that can be applied across the board. Just as relevant to me when snapping photographs as a photographer or writing code as an application developer.

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