See Tammy Run? She’s Writing

TammySalyer_OptimizedI first met Molly on Twitter and was instantly a fan of her blog thanks to this fantastic post on editing, which, as a dedicated word-nerd, is a skill-slash-torment that I obsess over. Coincidentally, we both write fiction (my book has just been released, and hers will be coming out at any moment), so it seemed like perfect timing to share and blog about our writing stories and ideas with each other. For me, the process of writing and running are inevitably intertwined–I’ve “written” most of two novels while running–and Molly asked me to describe how running has helped my writing. So, in a nutshell…

We’ve all been there. Spending untold hours at our desks, staring at our screens until our eyes have taken on the texture of cotton balls, beating our heads against our keyboards trying to find the right words: the ones that will make that off-sounding paragraph better; the ones that will fix those flaws in word choice or story structure; the ones that don’t clatter and twist in the wind like smiling skeletons dangling from a noose, mocking us. Jaw hurting from gritting your teeth, your breathing shallow and sporadic from hunching over your work like a Wellsian Morlock, and the glass of water that was dripping with condensation when you sat down having turned into a science experiment from all the dust and cat hair that have landed in it as the hours of writing and editing have ticked, ticked, TICKED tortuously by.

You review that problematic sentence again, praying to Hemingway, Wilde, even Dr. Suess that something new will occur to you. That poor choice of words is like a riddle that you know you must solve or the scary monster in the dark will eat you. The frustrating perseveration of your brain makes it spin like a hamster in a ball as it rolls the same sentence around and around for the sixty-five-thousandth time, gaining momentum, but never escaping the same, confining bubble. You begin to doubt yourself, start telling yourself that you’re not really a writer, just some semi-literate fraud who can barely handle sentences more complex and interesting than “Jack and Jill went up the hill.” You consider trading your computer in for a Duncan yo-yo and maybe starting a street show. Step right up folks and watch as the most amazing yo-yo savant alive performs the first ever quintuple Around the World!

As you agonize on your spectacular failures as a writer and all around human being, it occurs to you that there are a few things you can do better than write, and now may be the time to divert to one of them. You can run. Running is easy; it takes no more mental or physical dexterity than placing one foot in front of the other. Surely you can accomplish that!

Wrestling for a few moments longer between lacing up your trainers or torturing yourself over this egregious, troll of a sentence, the promise of a slow, steady endorphin-drip finally pulls you away. You stand, marveling at the exuberance with which blood returns to your numbed feet. You note with a touch of worry the fulminous volume of the cracks and pops playing a symphony up and down your spine as you stretch your back. Then you put on your running clothes and step outside.

For the first mile, all you can think about is the pain your unnaturally shortened and cramped muscles are experiencing, but you continue your forced lope onwards. Not long later, you begin to look around you, noticing the brilliance of the blue sky and sucking down the crisp, clean air that tastes of pure joy. As your heart settles into a lusty rhythm and your lungs expand, so does your mind, and soon you realize it’s dipping back into your manuscript. But instead of resentment, you feel a detached pleasure as your thoughts wander to those particular turns of phrase or plot points that you’ve already written–and that you know are good. Good! You remember how you felt when you wrote those words describing your character’s unique and funny quirks, and when you so brilliantly tied the protagonist and their call to action together, and you gratefully remember how lovely some of those descriptive paragraphs really are.

By mile three you realize you can actually write, you do actually have some talent, you are actually not the hack you were afraid you were! And suddenly, with a stroke of Euclidian clarity, the fix to that troubling sentence gushes through your consciousness like the blooming of a lotus. So simple, so elegant, so magical. It was there all along; it just needed you to step back and give it room to breathe. And you’ve done it. Riddle solved.

But your happiness and enthusiasm are not limited to that one sentence. As the barely noticed ground disappears behind your steady, free-floating legs, the writer in you continues to plot and develop. Your next scene is already unfurling, and you can see with the lucidity of a mountain-top mystic exactly where it will take your characters. By the time you’re ready to return home, you know that the momentum that began as a self-imposed jog of perdition will continue to carry you through your manuscript in an all out, victorious sprint.

Tammy won her first writing contest in the second grade and has been word-nerding ever since. As an ex-paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Tammy’s writing is often as gritty as a grunt’s pile of three-week-old field gear. Contract of Defiance (You can find it here on Amazon) won the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold contest in 2010 for best action/thriller novel, and its followup, Contract of Betrayal, will be out in Spring 2013. She also has several short stories published in small horror and literary magazines. When not hunched like a Morlock over her writing desk, Tammy works in behavioral-science research, runs and bikes the foothills of Colorado, and endlessly debates the merits and drawbacks of coffee versus green tea with herself. (Follow my hilarious friend Tammy on Twitter @TammySalyer, and visit her blog!)

About Contract of Defiance: In a few hundred years, the Algol system becomes humanity’s new home. The question is: is it a better one? When a crew of arms smugglers botches their latest job, Corp-deserter and crewmember, Aly Erikson, is separated from her brother, the only person she can trust, and left behind to fight for her life. In the aftermath, as she tries to piece together what happened, a crew of roughneck settlers pressgang her into a dangerous mission in the heart of Corp territory. Time is running out to get back everything she’s lost: her crew, her brother, and her options. But no one is taking her gun.

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25 Responses to See Tammy Run? She’s Writing

  1. Heal Now and Forever April 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Tammy, I am hooked. Your newest fan! I love how you construct sentence. How many miles did is take to write this awesome post? You rock, girl!

    • Tammy April 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

      Hi Jodi,
      Thanks! I do like to play fast and loose with those commas, huh? Amazingly, this only took me about four miles. I’m getting faster at something, I guess.

  2. Laura Zera (@laurazera) April 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    Interesting. See, nothing comes to me when I run. Maybe I should turn the metal down on my iPod. Now, sleeping, see that’s my ultimate strategy. I’m thinking the scenes must all be unfolding in my slumber, but so far have been unsuccessful in remembering them. I did, however, remember a dream this morning where I was in an office, it was my birthday, and George Takei was my boss. He was off sick, though, so I called him at home and asked him if we could order and expense Chinese food for a birthday celebration. He agreed, but I could tell he wasn’t happy about it.

    • Molly Greene April 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

      Jodi and Laura, you two are the BEST!

    • Tammy April 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      Hehe, Laura, I had to turn the iPod off awhile ago. It was making it too difficult to hear the voices in my head. How awesome would it be to have George Takei as your boss?!

      GT Happy Dance ~~>

      • Laura Zera (@laurazera) May 1, 2012 at 11:06 am #

        LOVED the video! May we all be doing a happy dance at that age and may we all be prolific until then. Thanks for the link and for a great post, Tammy.

  3. Wendy Reid April 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I have recently (since January of this year) changed the way I eat and have been exercising with the goal of being able to run. I want to feel that freedom that you talk about as well as the burst of creativity that I know would accompany it. I had pulmonary embolisms a year ago though and I still can’t do anything cardio for more than a few minutes at a time.

    I enjoyed your post.

    • Tammy April 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

      Hi Wendy. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the post and wish you many happy thoughts and creative strokes of brilliance as you make your way towards achieving your goals 🙂

  4. Ron McCabe April 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Hi Molly. You already know how big of a fan I am. Yes…I’m smiling again! Your guest blogger Tammy…egregious, troll of a sentence, like a Wellsian Morlock, a stroke of Euclidian clarity…you do realize that only about a dozen of your followers are going to be able to read this with any certainty of understanding of what was just said. How delightful! And a runner no less.

    I’m sixty-five. Still knocking back 6 miles a day. I have several marathons under my belt from days long gone by. And I look at the beautiful photograph of this erudite young woman and think…how does it feel to have your ass kicked by this beauty…intellectually as well as physically?

    I wish my blog brought you as much pleasure as your blog brings me. My novel Betrayed is going to be a bitter/sweet experience for you. It is due for release in June. But I promise that you will love the writing.

    I’ve read the first chapter of Loon and I can’t wait for its release. Tammy has sold another copy of Contract of Defiance to me! You are just a little machine of joy!
    As always…Kindest Regards,

    • Molly Greene May 1, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      Hi Ron! I know, I don’t understand her but I love to read what she writes. I’ve made the sweetest connections on Twitter, yourself included, and I deeply appreciate your consistent support and the wonderful, wonderful comments you leave on my blog! My f/t job keeps me from spending as much time as I’d like doing the same for others, but am looking forward to your book launch and wish you the absolute best in all you do!

    • Tammy May 1, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Ron, I don’t know which of us should be more flattered! Thank you so much for the kindness :), and I have the utmost admiration for people with the endurance to run marathons. I look forward to reading Betrayed.

  5. Ron McCabe May 1, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    “Yep…you two are keepers!” he said, a satisfied grin spreading across his face.

  6. Dannie Hill May 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Molly. Thank you for letting me know about Tammy. This post almost made me jump up and go running– almost, lol. I’ve got Tammy’s book and it’s coming up on my read list. I can’t wait for your book, Molly.

    And tell Ron that we all know what he said, Ha!

    • Tammy May 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      Psst, Dannie, just FYI, Molly’s book is REALLY fantastic. Thanks for the support 🙂

  7. Susan Spann May 8, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Oh, how I relate to becoming a Morlock over the writing desk! Actually…the whole description was fantastic. I tend to divert to my seahorses rather than running, but I am SO impressed with your ability to run. Your description even makes it sound like something I want to do – until I remember that if I ran three miles I’d probably die of heart failure. If I can walk them, though, I’m right there with you!

    • Molly Greene May 8, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Hi Susan! Agreed, Tammy’s description is right on. And I’ll walk with you anytime!

  8. Eric Malteca October 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm #


    Great Post! I attempted to push your analogy to the limit and write WHILE running. The end result was a wild misuse of punctuation and a ‘jogged’ memory of college exploits. Training for a marathon now, expecting to crank out 20,000+ words in the process…

    Tender Regards,

    Eric Malteca

    • Tammy Salyer November 11, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      Eric, you are both inspiring and hardcore! Good luck on the marathon training. Which one are you planning for? I hope many great stories come out of the experience!

  9. Kevin Eagan January 21, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Tammy and Molly,

    Wow, what a great post! I am a runner, writer, and editor, so I sympathize with this idea. Many excellent writers have also been accomplished runners and I think this is because both skills require the same patience and persistence for success.

    I’m so happy I found both of your Websites!


    • Molly Greene January 21, 2013 at 9:54 am #

      Hey Kevin, we’re glad you found us, too – thanks so much for your lovely comment and best to you in both writing AND running!

    • Tammy Salyer January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      Hi Kevin, It’s great to meet you, too! And just echoing Molly, best on running, writing, and that whole patience thing 😉

  10. Kayla Dawn Thomas October 3, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    This post went straight to my heart and reminded me why I run and why I write. They truly go hand in hand. Some days the writing will not flow until after my run. Given that, I better go lace up and get to it!

    • Tammy Salyer October 3, 2013 at 10:56 am #

      Yay, Kayla! So happy it resonated with you, and I hope you had a great writing (running) session today!

  11. Aussa Lorens October 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Ah, this is so true! I had one of these moments not too long ago when I had actually dared to take a few days off of work to “get started” on a new story I was working on– I ended up sitting and staring for hours and then cleaning my house while calling myself a failure and trying to decide on some new non-writery career to start pursuing. I ended up heading out to a nearby wilderness trail and was overcome with inspiration once I had gotten outside of it all. You captured this sort of experience very well– and it’s always affirming to know that someone else knows how it feels.

    • Tammy Salyer October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Yay! Aussa, so glad you found the inspiration you needed. Yes, indeed, taking that mental time-out is the number one way to get the creative juices flowing, right? Sometimes we just have to be smart enough to get out of our own way. Thanks for the comment!