The Writer’s Endurance

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By Annie Persons

I recently read an article in the online magazine Brain Pickings titled “Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized,” by Maria Popova ( The article discusses a data-map visualizing the correlation between wake-up time and estimated literary accolades of thirty-eight renowned writers ranging from Charles Dickens and Simone de Beauvoir to Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. I was not surprised to learn that Sylvia Plath woke up at a red-eyed four a.m. and that Fitzgerald didn’t wake until eleven (one can only speculate as to why, but the word “hangover” comes to mind).

 I immediately compared my own sleep habits to those of these writers, thinking Virginia Woolf woke up at 9am too…does that mean that I am like Virginia Woolf?! Should I start waking up earlier if I want to be more like Sylvia Plath? …Do I want to be more like Sylvia Plath?!  I then reminded myself that no, I will never be exactly like these writers; my best creative writing comes when I try to find my own voice. However, the article still raises the interesting question of what, if any, common habits do all writers have that make them great?  

Pondering this, I thought about the area that I felt I achieved the most in before college: running. In high school, I ran cross-country during the fall and track during the spring. When I first started running, I was terrible. I enjoyed practice but hated the races. They were hard. However, while genetics does play a role, getting a good time in any length of race comes from a unique balance of determination, stamina, and a touch of insanity. Running forces you to strike up a personal and dramatic relationship with your pain threshold. To get faster, you have to want to push yourself, knowing that the process will, undoubtedly, cause pain. But with this pain comes the feeling of flying, just you in your own head; the ineffable feeling of internal strength, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you—your own grit—is what propels you down your path. I did get fast, and I would never, ever chalk it up to inherited “skill” or “talent.” No. It was really hard work.

 I think that writing might be the same, or at least similar. After taking creative writing classes at Washington and Lee, I’ve discovered that creative writing gives me even greater joy than running. And not only do I love writing, but I enjoy editing my own work. I want to be better.

 So, back to Brain Pickings. Maria Popova’s habit-based theory made me realize something I should have realized a long time ago, something that most writers probably know. Like running, improving one’s writing comes with practice. It begs the endurance of rejection. It means writing when you don’t want to. It might also mean writing about something hard or painful that you would rather ignore, or it might have to do with the blood, sweat, and tears that comes with editing. It’s that paradox of loving writing but being too lazy to do it enough to make something magical.

 I want to feel that magic more often. I want to create it. And not so that I can see my caricatured face on a bizarre map surrounded by other literary giants. I want to improve my writing because writing—truly digging into my self and producing something that I’m proud of—makes me feel whole. Getting on that map wouldn’t be so bad, though.


About Ann Persons

Annie Persons is currently the managing editor for Shenandoah. She is a junior English major and Creative Writing minor at Washington and Lee University. Her favorite pastimes are reading and writing, and she hopes to continue engaging with literature for the rest of her life.

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3 Responses to The Writer’s Endurance

  1. Rod Smith says:

    Robert Penn Warren wrote that writing was one of the hardest things you can do, but for some people the only thing harder was not writing. Once one achieves discipline and gains momentum, the habit of creative satisfaction begins to cut in. That rush of observation and precision, of form and improvisation becomes an addiction, though in many cass a healthy one.

  2. Bella Zuroski says:

    I love the parallels you draw between running and writing, Annie. As they are also both passions of mine, I can relate to the draw that you feel to both of them despite the challenge and pain they can bring. Your blog post made me think of another similarity between the 2 – there are all different types of writing can create and all different types of runs you can go on, and these kind of echo each other. There are those runs that make you feel great, and when you’re on them you really see the charm and the beauty all around you and your legs feel strong and the air feels clear in your lungs. And then there are those runs when things just don’t quite click right and it’s just a little too hot or your calf is just a little too tight or the exhaust from the cars blowing by you makes you cough just a little too much.

    When you write every day, the same thing happens. You can work and work at a piece and things won’t just come together, or you can strike gold and the strokes of your pen or your fingers on the keyboard find a steady gait just like your legs do on a good run.

    It’s tough to do it every day, and most days are tougher than others. But if you don’t wake up every morning and lace up your running shoes or put the pen to the paper, you’ll never have those days when you find the magic.

  3. Annie Persons says:

    Thanks for that added insight, Bella. I’m glad we are on the same page!

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