By Tess St. John
Stretching. Some love it, some don’t. Many do it before or after they start an activity, as soon as they wake up or right before they sleep. I stretch before I write. Write? Why did she just say write? Yes, I did, because as an athlete, I know how important stretching is before working out and it’s just as important when I sit down to write.
Writing and running have more than a few things in common. Running requires a high level of physical activity; writing calls for a high level of cerebral activity. They are seemingly miles apart on the spectrum, but in reality, they aren’t at all.
Running long distances takes a toll on my body, which is why I don’t jump out of bed and start running. Before a run, depending on how far I intend to go that day, I do a quick warmup and some dynamic stretches. On Wednesday or Friday runs with the cross-country team, we always start with a two to three mile warmup (at least for the ladies) and then we gather in the grass and loosen our muscles just enough so we’re ready for some sprints. Then we hit the track for a quick sweat.
It’s the same routine for writing, except this kind of stretch is to expand the mind. When you think about the piece you want to write, it’s best to jot down the facts about that topic that you want to discuss. A wise man (Professor Jonathan Rabb) always teaches our classes a technique that helps us to begin all our writings: the 20-10-5 method. It’s just like light stretching before a hard workout. The first 20 things that come to mind is similar to the first few miles you run as a warmup; it loosens up the muscles and strengthens the body to prepare for what’s next. The next 10 help to narrow down your topic, like the dynamic stretches that narrow in on certain muscles. And the last five are similar to the actual workout. You take everything you just did to prepare yourself and you put it in motion and write (or run) to the best of your ability.
Stretching can be painful and tedious but, once you do it, you feel so much better. It can be helpful to relieve barriers and blockage, both with blood flow to the brain and muscles. Stretching expands parts of your body that acquire you to achieve the highest of your capability. Before I began my writing career my process didn’t involve any form of a warmup. My stories had no sense of direction and the narrative would fall flat on the page. It was the same story for my athletic career. I suffered from many injuries in my pre-collegiate sports because I didn’t dedicate the time to focus on what my body needed in order to perform at its best.
Take the little time that it does to stretch before you do anything. For both writing and running, you need to consistently show up and practice. In order to improve you need to allow yourself to take risks and face potential failure. Running isn’t easy and neither is writing. Whether it’s mentally or physically strenuous to you, try and dedicate just a few moments to warm up your body and stretch. You won’t regret it.