Monday, September 24, 2012

What I Learned about Writing from Running

I’ve been a runner for years. Not because I really like it, but it’s good for me and it doesn’t take a lot of coordination. I tried aerobics back in the day—not a pretty sight. So I went back to running. But when we moved from California to New England, I ran into a problem. Ice.

Running on snow wasn’t a problem, and I didn’t mind the cold. But ice was too dangerous, especially for a person whose coordination was sketchy. So I ended up on a treadmill and was bored silly.

I started reading while I ran the treadmill. I've read a ton of books—thrillers, mysteries, YA novels. And I discovered "the boring parts." I’m usually a very patient reader. But when I need to be distracted from the smack of my shoes, the sweat dripping down my neck, and the muscles that are yelling “we don’t want to do this,” I have no patience for the boring parts.

But boring doesn’t mean slow. I understand how pacing ebbs and flows, but when it ebbs the plot needs to continue to advance and character needs to continue being revealed. I’ve discovered that I can almost always skip the boring sections without missing any plot or character development. In particular, this usually happens when the author throws in the obligatory paragraph or three of setting where nothing happens except telling the reader the color of a particular house, how spectacular the sunset is, etc. Honestly, I skip these sections because, as a reader, I don’t care unless it’s integral to the plot or the character.

So my advice is to cut the boring parts or better yet spice them up. Use a setting description to have a character remember a similar setting where something momentous happened—their dog died, their parent died, or, even better, a meteor hit and killed both their dog and their parent.

 Remember Elmore Leonard’s famous quote, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

BTW, here are some photos from our celebration of Elevensies.

We had tea, scones, apricot jam, and chocolate. Yes, I know, there's no mention of chocolate in The Hobbit. But that's only because hobbits didn't know about chocolate. If they had, they'd have guarded it as jealously as they did pipe weed.

Speaking of pipe weed...

It's an authentic Swiss clay pipe. But no pipe weed. Note Matt's disappointment.

Reading the first chapter aloud and getting caught up in the story all over again.

Here's our copy. It has gorgeous illustrations.


  1. Connie, you've just set the tone for my day... smiling!

    I'm slowly making my way to the treadmill this morning, thinking of writing, and now, thanks to you, thinking of Elevensies!

    Just scrolling down a bit, I see I have much catching up to do here in your hobbit hole. So many comments I want to make, I'll must come back promptly after sweating my way through some "Downton Abbey" on netflix.

    The writing advice, by the way, spot on! Needed that.


  2. I couldn't agree more about the boring parts. I'm trying to delete those parts as much as possible.

  3. I love that quote--it's certainly sound advice!

    Great pictures.

  4. Interesting post. Is it just me, or did you, once upon a time, enjoy those so-called "boring" parts, too? Has the overall faster pace in life changed our perceptions such that we're more interested in instant gratification... of getting right to the point... rather than savoring the delicious descriptions and lyrical prose along the way? I dunno. I do know that some of the books I adored when I was young no longer enchant me. Now, the writing seems stilted, slow, and pedantic.