It is one in the morning. It is dark and cold and I am panting. No, I am not running from the police, a serial killer, a horde of feral cats, or anything that means to harm me in general. What I’m doing, believe it or not, is writing a paper on Roland Barthes’ “Reality Effect” as displayed in “The Dead” by James Joyce. And you may think “But Brian, is running the streets of Ewing really the proper way to write a paper? Shouldn’t you be in the library?” However, I must respectfully disagree. While I do not advocate running at one in the morning, especially for you city folk, I am here to posit to you that running is the perfect method to: complete prewriting, beat writers’ block, develop theses, and improve your writing overall.
First of all, there are few things more intimidating than an empty page. It is an oppressive vacuum that must miraculously be filled with well-written prose. All of us have suffered from the ruthless brutality of the blinking cursor line or blank sheet of paper. You start to think intensely about some of the following things:
- How can I possibly integrate these texts?
- How can I write my ideas in one or two sentences?
- Why did I take this class?
- What are the rules for semicolons?
- How do you cite translated essays in an anthology?
- What time is it?
- What’s in my fridge?
By the time you get back to your paper, it is three hours later and you’ve eaten an entire box of Honey Nut Cheerios. But I propose to you that this does not have to be your paper writing experience. Take a step away from the blank screen. Take a step out of your house. Running affords you some time to simply stop thinking, to worry more about breathing than textual analysis.
You do not have to run far for epiphanies to hit you. As a marathon runner, my moment of clarity hits me somewhere between mile four and five in a moment of glorious revelation. The less you think about the thing you have to do, and the more you focus on placing one foot in front of the other, and not choking on the bug that just flew into your mouth, the easier your ideas can sift to the forefront of your mind. This technique is not for everyone, and certainly not always the safest thing. If you’re not a runner, some other methods that yield the same results include, but are not limited to: knitting, meditating, gardening, mowing the lawn, driving inordinately long distances, stocking shelves, baking, and folding laundry. Anything that helps clear your mind should work.
Try it: close your laptop, put away your books, set down your pencils, lace up your shoes (or knitting needles), and write that paper!