Lots of things in life take endurance — family, career, reading Russian novels, but today, I want to compare running and writing.
It’s funny, running is simple, it’s walking but a little faster — at least for me these days. It’s something I’ve been doing almost my whole life. But running can be difficult to start for me. There are a million things nagging at me to do from chores around the house to guilt that I need to spend more time with my family. Make sure I’m present for both my wife and son in meaningful ways. So I find a time I can run that won’t take away from them — early, early morning. But then there’s the chill in the air and the nagging aches and pains to be shaken off, not to mention the coyotes. We’ve got lots of them in my neighborhood. They’re actually rather pretty, but they put up a racket and I don’t trust they will be as incompetent as salaciously presented by Looney Tunes. So there are reasons not to go.
Writing is something that I’ve loved since my mother read to me and my brother when we were little. One of my first memories was sitting next to her and looking at the pages she was reading from and not knowing what the symbols were. Just black lines, dots, circles and half circles spread out in a pattern on white pages. Really beautiful and not only that, but you unlocked stories from them. I wanted to do that, create those marks on the pages and the stories they contained.
It took me a long time to get past the coyotes of my mind that were preventing that. It wasn’t until 1998 when I got my first check from something I wrote. It was for an article for the Middletown Press in Middletown. CT. I covered a football game for the sports page. I told myself it was for pizza and beer money. I had a good job working for Nielsen Media Research at the time. But that beer-money excuse was a lie. I wanted to be a professional writer and I knew it. Yearned for it, but was afraid to do something about it. The article I wrote wasn’t very good, but it was enough to push me forward and I worked in journalism for about 16 years after that and wrote thousands of articles. So writing, at least the physical act, has become a bit like walking. I can do it easily.
But, now that it’s for me, I have similar hang ups to running, just the coyotes in writing are metaphorical. Writing also takes me away from chores and my family. When I’m writing, I’m focusing on that story, on that world and the lives of those characters. It’s absorbing. And, unlike running, where my capacity tops out at a little over an hour, I could write all day.
So how do you get going. In both, it’s a matter of just getting to the starting line to speak. Once I get to the computer, I can start typing usually and then the rhythm takes me. I find myself falling into the story, into the words, hearing them. With running, once I get outside, stretch a little and get going, the rust slowly falls off as my feet strike out a rhythm while the dawn sky turns from ashy to bright blue. I feel my body working, sometimes not as good as I’d like, but it’s working. And that’s true of the words and sentences that I pound out on the keyboard. They don’t always work.
And that’s where endurance comes in. I can run and feel a wall coming, that moment where, chugging up hill at almost a walking pace, I feel the call to quit and walk home. But I know if I keep going, there will be a downhill soon enough. I live in a very hilly neighborhood by the way. I know there’s an end to the run, good or bad.
Writing endurance is something else. I can bang out thousands of words a day, but the real endurance comes in the revising. I finish a story, but that’s like finishing the first mile, or even the first 100 yards of a run because that’s when the rewrites begin and the editing and the proofreading. It can take two or three times to do the editing and rewriting. Doubts creep in about this story line or this motivation. Is this really where the story should go? Should I cut this particularly nice description or interaction because it doesn’t move things forward? What’s the purpose of this word or that one or even this character? All questions that have to be answered. It gets to the point where it seems like I’m barely moving at all, even though I finished the first draft months and months ago.
But as I move forward, I do realize finishing my stories are similar to my finishing my runs. The last mile can be terribly hard, downright miserable if you’re pushing yourself, but that last mile can be so satisfying when it’s done. You just got to keep pushing.