Creative Marathons

Creative Marathons

“This process is akin to running a marathon. We’re logging miles on the page. Some days our imagination is on fire, while other days feels like a slog.”

– Alan Watt

Once I trained for a marathon.

(I ran the race too, but it was the months of training leading up to the race that’s relevant here.)

Three months ago I started a daily creative project.

Now I’m having deja vu.

Marathons and creative projects. There’s a lot of common ground here.

“Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further successful challenges. Viewed this way, running a marathon increases your chances of writing a full-length play. Writing a full-length play gives you a leg up on a marathon.”

– Julia Cameron

We plod away each day, we struggle with insecurities and doubts, we sacrifice other parts of our lives, we continually lose faith and recommit again and again. Along the way, if we’re staying open and paying attention, we can sometimes scratch the surface of something deeper.

“A daily creative project is like a marathon. It’s a ridiculously daunting task, but making an original creation every day gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment. It also forces you to push beyond your mental and physical barriers (especially the ones you’ve erected for yourself).”

– Noah Scalin

Are you interested in running a marathon? How about starting a creative project? Have another personal challenge in mind?

Here’s some advice:

  1. Find a buddy. This doesn’t need to be someone with the same goal or project as you (it might be helpful if they’re working on something different), but it should be someone who can motivate you to show up on the trail/track/page/canvas each day. It should be someone who cares about you and supports you, someone who’ll encourage you through the tough times, and someone who you can reciprocate support for.
  2. Follow a plan. There are many marathon training plans out there. There are many books outlining creative programs and processes. I recommend finding one that looks decent. Are these plans foolproof? Definitely not. Ultimately, you’ll need to trust your instincts and shape your own way as you go. But having a program to follow, especially if you’re new to your activity, will give you some direction and motivation along the way.
  3. Set a big, achievable goal. What tangible accomplishment do you want out of this experience? A Boston qualifier? A gallery showing? Is this goal realistic but also a little scary? Great! Keep that goal in mind because it’ll help you stay focused and committed over time.
  4. Let go of the results. Now that you’ve set your goal, you’ve got to let it go. You need to hold all of this loosely or you’ll quickly overthink what you’re doing. Your primary purpose needs to be about the experience itself, not the outcome.
  5. Get enough sleep. You’re working hard here! Your body heals while you’re sleeping. Your creative energy restores itself while you’re unconscious.
  6. Accept the ups and downs. There will be days when you feel like Wonder Woman. There will be days when you don’t want to get out of bed. If you’re anything like me, you’ll alternate back and forth between both states of mind on the same day. Accept that this is part of the process— neither extreme means anything unless you let it.
  7. Don’t look over your shoulder. Be careful not to compare yourself with others. This experience is just about you. Give yourself permission to go slow. Allow yourself to do your creative project poorly. Once we let go, we can get the work done.
  8. Trust the experience. It’s important to stay relaxed, open and curious. It’s important that we don’t get too caught up in the details and difficulties. We need to trust what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, even if we don’t have it all figured out. We must continue in spite of the unknowns.

We’re doing this to challenge ourselves, to do something we always wanted but never thought we could. Along the way, we’re changing our perspective: we’re finding balance and space, we’re paying attention, we’re staying open to the world around us. Ultimately, this is about taking risks, living fully, and transforming ourselves.

Plod away!


4 Responses

  1. I never ran a marathon, or wrote a full-length play. (Once I tried a TV script but it was rejected). I’m sorry I didn’t have your advice list, it’s a good one. I especially like #4—letting go of the results. It reminds me of the 4 zen-like tenets I like to follow: show up, pay attention, tell the truth and don’t be attached to the results.
    Thanks for another marvelous essay to brighten my day and my mind!

    (Are you getting enough sleep yourself?)

    1. Thanks for taking a read! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Sleep happens to be one thing I do very well! (I didn’t know about the TV script! ) xo

  2. Really enjoy this, Sarah. I’m thinking of taking up sewing (with my hands it could be interesting). But I keep coming back to it so maybe I’ll find a solution. Thanks for the inspiration!

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